Friday, April 29, 2011

POP!!! Wall Street Sez: We Can Haz Genealogy!

Everybody in “professional” or “really, really serious” genealogy has been speculating whether the popularity of the TV series “Who Do You Think You Are” will do much to bring more people into the "big tent" that is genealogy.

After all, in addition to the TV show, there are those nearly ubiquitous commercials from suggesting that you don’t even have to know what you’re looking for.  You can just go to, sign up, and start to find stuff.  Great stuff, too, they say!  It’s so easy, just like the stars do it on TV.

Just look for the family trees with little green leaves and – bingo – you can haz ur genealogy!

Well, apparently in answer to the “bring more people into the big tent” question, the answer is a resounding “yes”.

How do we know?  Because the common stock of (ACOM) just popped this morning, Spindletop-like, following the release of their latest financial report with future earnings estimates. 

Ancestry’s first quarter profits (that’s actual profits, not revenues) were a whopping $9 million dollars – double the previous estimates and significantly higher (in a statistically-significantly kind of way) than those folks on “The Street” thought they would be.  The company now estimates its annual revenues this year to be $100 million dollars.

[6:24 PM CORRECTION:  I typed too fast - the company estimate of annual revenues is $395 - 400 million.  The $100 million figure is just for the second quarter estimate. Still...]

That’s a lotta dollars.

So, the market went a little bit crazy and the stock went up (wait, let’s see;  hmmm, okay…) 34.4 percent as of 2:04 PM today.  Of course, that won’t be the final number (these things fluctuate… oops – now it’s 40.5% as of 2:12PM). For every buck investors had in Ancestry stock yesterday afternoon when the market closed, they now have about 40 cents more (oh, wait…it slipped back a little bit…it’s now a 36.8 percent gain…no, now it’s 39.74%...

The folks on Wall Street seem to think that more and more people will continue to buy more and more of what Ancestry sells.  Now, the question is, will they like what they see and will they stay inside the big tent that is genealogy?

Time will tell.

Is it really important that they stay in the tent?

Actually, yes, because for each newly converted genealogist, that’s another voice to join the rest of us to speak out against the closing of libraries and archives, to lobby for open records and to make a loud and forceful noise about the importance of preserving our collective heritage.

As organized religions have known for thousands of years, the newly converted often make the best proselytizers.

(ACOM stock’s up 40.11% at 2:36PM, Friday, April 29, 2011…no, wait...38.12% at 2:52 PM...)

UPDATE: FINAL MARKET CLOSE:  $45.70, up 42.55%!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Saga of the Missed Invitation and Boston 1860 Continues …And Comes To An End

Yellow Hair, Red Coat, Black Horse

Just like Louisa May Alcott and her friend Fanny, thousands of young women tried to catch a glimpse of the “yellow-haired” bachelor prince in his scarlet coat as he rode on a borrowed jet-black stallion named “Black Prince” from the Massachusetts State House to Boston Common for the military review early in the afternoon of October 18, 1860.  Those near the roadway pushed and jostled for a better view, hoping the prince would wave, or nod or even just look their way. 

For some, however, the best view was from above. Certainly that was the case for 18 year-old Harriot Appleton, who watched the prince ride past from the vantage point of the balcony on her father Nathan Appleton’s house at 39 Beacon Street, directly opposite the Frog Pond on the Common. 

Alice Longfellow
As he passed the Appleton house, the prince dipped his head in a slight bow to the women on the balcony.  Some time later, Harriot (who, in 1860, everyone called “Hatty”) remembered the excitement and noted that her half-sister’s daughter Alice, just turned 10 and on the balcony beside her, was “quite captivated” with the spectacle of the prince riding past her grandpa’s house and bowing to her. Alice, the eldest daughter of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Hatty’s half-sister Fanny Appleton Longfellow, had come over from the Longfellow residence at Craigie House just for the occasion. It wasn’t every day that there was a parade and a prince at grandpa’s house.

A Busy Year

For Hatty Appleton, 1860 was turning out to be a busy year.  In February, she was presented to Boston society in the Green Room of her father’s Beacon Street house. Throughout the year, there had been parties and dinners. Now a real-life prince had come to town and waved to her on her father’s balcony.

The Poet Longfellow
Unlike the thousands of other young women who took to the streets to cheer on the young prince, Hatty’s day with the prince was not quite done.  Hatty, along with her mother, her half-sister Fanny and Fanny's husband Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, were all going to the Ball being held in the prince’s honor.

How could they not? Both Longfellow and William Appleton (Hatty’s father’s cousin) were 2 of the 14 members on the Invitations Committee.

The ball was to be held in the Boston Academy of Music (later called the Boston Theater) – a magnificent building in its own right with a spectacular chandelier  and one of the few public spaces in the country large enough to accommodate 3,000 guests.  A special dance floor had been constructed, bunting, flags and flowers by the ton had been arranged and openings through the brick wall to the Melodeon hall next door had been cut through so that the guests could reach the dining area without going outside.

Food…Glorious Food, the Guests and What They Wore

galantine of pheasant
The bill of fare was to be the best that Boston could offer. There would be oysters prepared at least five different ways, galantines of pheasant, turkey and duck, patés (both foie gras and pheasant), lobster salad, veal, and roast chicken, both hot and cold.   For those with a sweet tooth, there would be sorbets, macedoines, glaces, bombes, puddings, meringues and cremes.  And … to wash it all down, endless champagne.

At about 7:30 in the evening, the first carriages started to arrive outside the theater and the invited guests in their jewels, plumes, top hats and finery went inside.  The special Green Room was reserved for the ball’s Executive Committee and Invitations Committee and their guests and that was the room into which the Appleton-Longfellow party headed. 

Hatty was dressed in white, described in the Boston papers as “…simply attired in white tulle, with white flowers.”  It was no doubt similar to (or possibly the very same as) the Paris gown she had worn at her coming-out affair earlier in February.

Her half-sister, Fanny Appleton Longfellow, was described by the press as “queenly”, wearing a “scarlet velvet headdress with a white plume going halfway around her head.  Hatty’s mother, Harriot Coffin Sumner Appleton, was described as “elegantly attired, scarf, collar, headdress of resurrection lace.”

The Grand Entrance

Shortly after 10 PM, the young prince and his entourage made their grand entrance and were escorted to the special “royal box” that had been done up on the balcony.  After a bit, the prince went downstairs and entered the dance floor.  The orchestra played “God Save The Queen” as he entered, and, at 11 PM, the ball officially began as the prince and other dancers took their places for the first quadrille.

Everything had been carefully orchestrated.  There would be exactly seventeen dances with the prince. The prince’s dance partners had been carefully selected.  Nothing was left to chance.

The prince danced first with the Mayor of Boston’s wife.  Next, he escorted the wife of the state’s governor to the dance floor. After that came Mrs. Wise, daughter of the Hon. Edward Everett, the former governor, former senator and former US Secretary of State.

As the night wore on, the dancing continued. Quadrilles, lancers (a dance much like the quadrille), waltzes and polkas were the order of the night.  There would be only seventeen ladies chosen to have their names entered on the prince’s dance card.  After the fourteenth dance - a waltz -  the prince escorted his partner Mrs. Chickering, wife of the piano manufacturer, back to her party.


Polka Redowa
The fifteenth dance was a polka redowa, a “slow” polka nearly like a waltz.   The tune was “Sailor Boy.”  The prince’s partner for the dance was that girl in white tulle, only six days younger than himself, whom he had seen on her father’s balcony earlier in the day – Harriot Appleton.

Years later, Hatty (then Mrs. Greely Stevenson Curtis) told folks that she couldn’t think of much to talk about with the young prince.  She said she had asked him if he didn’t get bored with all he had seen.  “Not at all,” she said that he replied diplomatically. “It is all very interesting.”

The Connection

Hatty Appleton, the 18 year old Boston girl who danced the polka redowa with Prince William’s great-great-great grandfather on his Boston visit in 1860, outlived all the other 16 Boston women and girls who shared that special honor. She also outlived (by 13 years) Prince Albert Edward himself, who ruled as King Edward VII and died in 1910.

In 1863, Hatty married brevetted Brigadier-General Greely Stevenson Curtis (commander, 1st Mass. Vol. Cavalry) and went on to raise a family of ten children.  She had many grandchildren and many great-grandchildren. Her progeny further increased down to the current generation and includes many great-great-great grandchildren.

Some of those great-great-great grandchildren are the very same grandkids to whom I had to break the sad news on Easter that Grandpa’s royal wedding invitation had not arrived. 

“Remember,” I told them, “even though I may not dance at the Windsor-Middleton wedding on Friday with my old friend Camilla, your great-great-great grandma Miss Hatty Appleton danced with Will’s great-great-great grandpa in Boston in 1860.”

And, as I said in an earlier post, I don’t much like hip-hop anyway…so I guess the missed invite doesn't much matter!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Promised "In Honour of the Royal Wedding" Saga Continues (Part the Second)

[So…no invitation to the London festivities in today’s’ mail.  I am truly bereft and forlorn.  Nonetheless, here’s the story I promised.]

The Future Author of “Little Women” Looks Out A Boston Window

The Crowd on the Common - 18 Oct 1860
It was the early afternoon of October 18, 1860.  The aspiring young writer Louisa May Alcott was in Boston with her friend Fanny W. at the open window of a house overlooking the Boston Common.  Outside, on the grass and on the roadway, there were thousands of people milling about, many in full military dress, while other gentlemen in top hats and morning coats chatted with ladies in billowing black dresses.  There were horses everywhere, the smell and noise of them rising up to the open windows of the genteel houses surrounding the Common. 

The young Miss Alcott took it all in.  She was, in a word or two, entranced and enchanted with the whole affair.

Later on, Miss Alcott recounted the event in her journal.  She wrote, “I went to B[oston] and saw the Prince of Wales trot over the Common with his train at a review. A yellow-haired laddie very like his mother.”

A line later she noted, “Fanny W. and I nodded and waved as he passed, and he openly winked his boyish eye at us, for Fanny with her yellow curls and wild waving, looked rather rowdy, and the poor little prince wanted some fun. We laughed, and thought that we had been more distinguished by the saucy wink than by a stately bow.  Boys are always jolly, - even princes.”

That “yellow-haired laddie” with the saucy wink was Queen Victoria’s 18 year old son and heir apparent, Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales and the first heir to the British throne to make a proper North American tour since the Revolution.

In time, after his mother’s demise, Albert Edward would ascend the throne to become “King Edward VII, By The Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and of the British Dominions Beyond the Seas, King Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India.”

The Young Prince
This boy-prince and future King – and on this crisp October morning, the “jolly boy” delight of Boston – was also the great-great-great grandfather of HRH the Prince William, the young man who will wed Kate Middleton in Westminster Abbey on Friday.

But first, back to 1860 Boston a day earlier…

The Prince Arrives By Train and All Boston’s Aflutter

The Prince had arrived by train from Albany the day before and was staying with his retinue on several floors of the Revere House in Boston’s Bowdoin Square – at the time, the best hotel in the city that was called the “Athens of North America.”  The hotel manager Paran Stevens – known far and wide for his meticulous attention to detail - made certain that the prince’s every want and desire was taken care of, even before the prince himself knew that he wanted or desired it.

The prince had already “done” Canada, Washington, New York and Albany.  He dedicated things and presided over things.  He appeared at numerous public and social events, nodding sagely over things that held little interest, clapping when appropriate and waltzing at balls with besmitten women three times his age.

The Prince at Niagara Falls
Like other well-heeled visitors “doing” the grand North American tour, he had seen Niagara Falls and the mighty Hudson, visited Mount Vernon with President Buchanan, slept at the White House and visited the usual tourist sites. Boston and Portland, Maine were at the end of his whirlwind schedule. 

Because the prince was not a head of state, this was not an official state visit, even though the crowds that turned out for him in both Canada and the United States behaved as though it were.  He traveled and registered in hotels under the name “Baron Renfrew” – one of his minor titles – but still, he was the Prince of Wales and everyone knew it and behaved accordingly.

Albert Edward Plays His Assigned Role

His mother the Queen had sent the trusted Henry Pelham Pelham-Clinton, 5th Duke of Newcastle, to watch over the prince and ensure that he behaved himself as a future king should. The Duke, in his last letter to Queen Victoria from North America, dated four days before the prince arrived in Boston, wrote, “There can be no doubt that the most important results will ensue from this happy event, and such as the ablest diplomatist could not have brought about in a quarter of a century. 

The young future king was playing his role according to plan.

Ralph Farnham
The 18th of October 1860 was a big day for Boston and a big day for the Prince.  In the morning he met briefly with the venerable Ralph Farnham of Acton, Maine, reputed to be 105 years old (probably an exaggeration) and also reputed to be the last survivor of the Battle of Bunker Hill (also probably an exaggeration.)

Then, there was the visit to the Massachusetts State House, followed by a parade led by the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company and then followed by the gargantuan military review on the Common noted by Miss Alcott in her journal.

After that, the prince and his entourage  headed off to an entertainment by a choir of 1200 or so Boston public school children at the Music Hall, with the singing children all waving handkerchiefs and performing a piece entitled “Our Father’s Land”, whose words were written specially for the occasion by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Boston’s celebrated poet-physician. 

Finally, as the day drew to a close, there was the ball.  Not just any ball, but the “ball of balls” – the mother of all social events - , designed by the Boston Brahmin luminaries to outstrip anything the young prince had heretofore experienced in North America.   This was Boston, after all.
The Ball To Outshine All Balls

There would be an extravaganza of gastronomic delights.  There would be all the luminaries of Boston society and their very eligible daughters, nieces and grand-daughters.  There would be nearly three thousand ticketed guests, all dressed to the nines and all dressed to impress, certain to leave the young prince secure in the knowledge that Boston was the true seat of the universe west of London and Paris.

The ball would be the Prince’s last major social event in North America and the organizers made sure in their planning that it would be a night to remember for many years to come.  

Of course, the New York City ball six days earlier was, in its own way, a night to remember. At that ball, part of the temporary dance floor constructed specially for the event collapsed because of the weight of the guests.

So…What’s Next?

[Note: Tomorrow, it will all come together.  The Boston Ball, the “Kevin Bacon-like” genealogical connection, the whole ball o’ wax.  Just in time to get ready for the Windsor – Middleton nuptials … my invitation to which still has not yet arrived.]

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter, The Gathering of The Clan (Such As It Is) and The Royal Wedding (Part One)

The multigenerational clan gathered here yesterday for an egg-free, wheat-free, dairy-free, soy-free, beef-free and nut-free Easter lunch and dinner.  

All the Easter eggs were plastic.

 Nobody got sick or threw up. 

None of the little people’s bumps and bruises produced either (a.) blood or (b.) periods of unconsciousness. 

A good time was had by all, as they say.

The Revelries

Great-Grandma got to revel with and delight in her great-grandkids and the grandkids got to bounce on grandpa and grandma’s bed (and on Grandpa) and play with the light-up rubber duckies in the bathroom sink. 

Grandma got to have lunch with her grand-daughter at a special table, talking girl-talk all by themselves, without the pesky little under-two year old brother hangin' around. 

Also, since potato chips (in moderation) can serve as a reasonable bread substitute, everybody was satiated and happy with the menu Grandpa concocted.  Hint: ketchup is non-allergenic and goes great with cantaloupe . . . especially if you’re under six.

Of course, like all family occasions, not everything works out perfectly.

Grave Disappointment (for Grandpa)

I had to break the very sad news to the grandkids that Grandma and Grandpa’s invitation to the Windsor/Middleton wedding at Westminster Abbey  later this week still has not arrived, and at this late date, Grandpa would have serious difficulty getting his morning coat properly cleaned and getting decent hotel reservations in London.  Grandma’s “getting ready for fancy dress” routine is even more complicated. 

Grandkids were appropriately heart-broken and Grandpa is still surprised and a bit non-plussed about the oversight (dare he say snub?), to say the least. 

After all, it’s not like it’s going to be a small “family-only” affair or that Grandpa’s a total stranger.   

For starters, he and Wills’s stepmum go way, way back, to the mid 60’s in a far-off island land.  Almost (but not quite) before Andrew Parker-Bowles.  Certainly well before Will’s dad Charles, her current fella.  Way, way back to where there were horses in abundance.  And greyhounds. And dinner parties with LOTS of forks. And platefuls of cold smoked salmon.  And whiskey (the proper kind, with an "e", of course.

And when the very young and very single Miss Shand (as she was called then) had just been introduced to “society” (as it was called then). 

[And yeah, there’s an interesting story here, but not right now.]

Surely, that would have merited an invite (see illus above right), just for old time’s sake.  Seriously, how many up-close-and-personal friends could the Windsors actually have? 

A Substitute for Disappointment, Perhaps?

So, since there doesn’t seem to be a wedding invitation in the immediate offing (lost in the mail, perchance?) and since the limited-time only, once-in-a-lifetime Dunkin Donuts special “Will and Kate’s Wedding” heart-shaped jelly-filled doughnut (whose details & peculiarities you can see here in all the glorious press-release detail American commerce can provide) is off-limits to the grandkids, I will, in the next shortly-forthcoming post, detail a past (albeit fleeting) encounter between one of Will’s male ancestors and one of the grandkids’ female ancestors, thus keeping things properly "six degrees of Kevin Bacon" genealogical.

Also, that way, the grandkids will have a “royal” story to play with.  It just won’t be the 2011 “royal wedding” story.  Actually, it will be a story about much more elegant times. 

More elegant?  Really? What could be more elegant than a 2011 royal wedding/reception?

Word Up!

Well, word has it that Beyonce Knowles and Jay-Z have been invited to perform at Will and Kate’s reception.  Seriously.  At least, that’s the Word.  Up.

It would be worth the price of admission to see HM The Queen and the Archbishop of C. mouthing the lyrics to Jay-Z’s hit “Big Pimpin’.”  If you’re not familiar with the lyrics, do a Google search.  (Hint: NSFW) 

Of course, since Jay-Z is teaming up with Kanye West for a new album called “Watch the Throne”, I guess it all makes sense.  Besides, they say that the royal newlyweds-to-be are big fans of the Jay-Z/Beyonce duo.

Still, while I don’t know about you, I’m not much of a hip-hop guy myself.  Polka Redowa and the occasional quadrille are more my style, so, much more about that in the next post. And, yes, the long-forgotten “polka redowa” is actually a part of the story…

(So . . .maybe I should check the mail again first thing in the morning for that invitation…? You know, just in case...?)

Stay tuned...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Patriot (Act) Game, Or Where Being Stupid Can Get You Elected

Years ago, when I as a Peace Corps volunteer in East Africa, many of my secondary school students believed that it was not safe to walk around outside at night in the remote border area where our boarding school was located.  Thieves would come, they believed, from neighboring Congo, club them and drain all their blood so that they could carry it back in buckets to sell to hospitals in war-torn Congo, leaving their lifeless corpses in the bush along the road.

It was a fervent belief, based upon nothing at all.  Still, the belief spread like wildfire through the school dorms.  No amount of faculty persuading would convince them otherwise.  Facts were irrelevant. They preferred to remain ignorant, since a good scare is always popular with young males the world over. (Witness the success of the Freddie Kruger/ Chain Saw Massacre movies...)

Forward to many years later ...

On the morning of 11 September 2001, we left our motel in Ohio with a vanload of books and maps and headed west toward Peoria, Illinois, en route to the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference in Davenport, Iowa.  As usual, we used the time in the van to discuss all manner of things, both business and personal.

The whole time we were on the road, we never thought to turn the radio on.  We were oblivious to what was going on in the world that day.

By midday, as we drove along country roads through Ohio and Indiana, we noticed long lines at gas stations.  Some even had local sheriff’s deputies directing traffic. Otherwise, there was nearly no traffic on the roads. It seemed exceedingly strange for a weekday, even in the small-town rural Midwest.  As I said, we were oblivious to the events of the day.

When we got to Peoria around 5 PM, there were long gas lines at every station.  As I checked into the hotel, I asked the clerk, “What’s with all the gas lines?”  She pointed to the TV. The World Trade Center Towers were falling down. Over and over again.

Several years later, when I worked as a program administrator for the NYS Department of Health, there was much talk about first responder illnesses that seemed to be related to 9/11.  Firemen, EMTs and NYC police were getting sick, mostly with a host of respiratory illnesses.  Studies were done.  It was obvious that the illnesses were related to the exposure to 9/11 toxins.   

Of course, some first responders didn’t get sick years later. 

By then, they were already long dead, their bodies forever joined with the remains of the fallen towers.

These men and women were the heroes of 9/11; the men and women upon whose fallen backs former NYC mayor Rudy Guliani built his “America’s Mayor” political reputation … as well as a highly lucrative consulting company.

Last fall, a 9/11 first responders health bill – designed to ensure that those on the front lines of response would be taken care of medically, no matter what - finally worked it way through Congress, after a long period of endless and needless discussion and despite Republican attempts to attach anti-abortion riders to it.  The bill was known as the “James Zadroga 9/11 Health And Compensation Law” and it finally got passed.

Finally.  But, not cleanly.

Thanks to Republican Cliff Stearns, representative from Florida’s 6th Congressional District, it got a rider attached to it now known as the “Stearns amendment”.  You can read it for yourself here

A paragraph inserted in the bill now reads:

No individual who is on the terrorist watch list maintained by the Department of Homeland Security shall qualify as an eligible WTC responder.  Before enrolling any individual as a WTC responder in the WTC program under paragraph (3), the Administrator, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security shall determine whether the individual is on such list.”

Shortly, first responders will be informed by letter that their names, addresses, dates of birth and other identifying data will be turned over to the Feds so that it can be determined that they are not listed on the terrorist watch list.

If you need an example of the old saw, “adding insult to injury”, this just might be it.

Cliff Stearns has been the Republican representative from central Florida since 1988.  Since he wins with more than 60% of the vote every two years, he obviously represents the feelings of the majority of his constituents. 

These good people in central Florida apparently share his feeling that some terrorists ran into the burning and collapsing World Trade Center Towers in 2001 so that, at some point more than 10 years in the future, they could get free medical care for their debilitating illnesses. 

Next thing you know, they’ll want the Florida legislature to pass a law guaranteeing that sharia law can never become law in Florida.  After all, you just never know about these things.  Better safe than sorry.  Check under your bed for terrorists and all that.  Never let facts get in the way.

I’m the product of many, many years of Catholic school education, where school uniforms, rigid classroom discipline and classes in moral theology and ethics were the norm.  One of the things we learned early on was the difference between “vincible ignorance” and “invincible ignorance.”  (We were big into Scholastic philosophy, Thomas Aquinas and that sort of thing)

Invincible ignorance, we were taught, was being ignorant of something because there was no one around to teach it to you or no sources to learn it from.  In other words, if you grew up on some remote island in the South Pacific in 900 AD, there’s no way you could have learned about Christianity or any of the other Middle Eastern desert religions.  You were “invincibly ignorant” and would not be held responsible for not knowing. 

If, however, you had the opportunity to learn the truth of something but willfully chose to ignore it (say, you were a high school kid in upstate NY in the early ‘60s or a boarding school student in East Africa some years later), you were “vincibly ignorant.”  In other words, you were purposefully stupid and it was your own fault – you were responsible and needed to shoulder the consequences of your own stupidity

We were taught to avoid vincible ignorance at all costs, there being no merit in willful and voluntary stupidity.  Apparently, however, Cliff Stearns never took a class like that. 

Moreover, now it is abundantly clear that vincible ignorance can get you elected in Florida.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Paradox of Pareto’s Principle and Genealogy’s Long Tail

Some people call it the “20/80 (or 80/20) Rule” and it seems to get used in all kinds of situations.

Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto’s classic observation in 1906 that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the people is often reduced to the somewhat simplistic explanation that 20% of “something” is directly related in a meaningful and causal way to 80% of “something else”.  For example, people who conduct time/motion studies of office workers and their environments have long noted that about 20% of the paper files in a filing cabinet are the ones that are consulted and used 80% of the time.  The rest just sit there, taking up space in the file drawers. Time/motion solution: be sure the ones most used are the easiest to reach.

Similarly, sales businesses often observe that – over time - 20% of their product line generates 80% of their revenue.  This is especially true in businesses like publishing (music and dvds included) where the hot new stuff that everybody wants right now makes up only 20% of the entire product line, but sells fast and furious.

 Main point?  Push the stuff that sells; ditch the rest.

Even educators will suggest that 20% of the stuff you learn at school is the stuff that gets used 80% of the time.  The other 80%?  Well, not so much.

For booksellers like us, it’s painfully obvious when we go to load up the vehicle after a conference, seminar or book fair, lugging those dozens of 35 to 40 pound boxes, that about 20% of the books we brought got sold while the other 80% just went along for the ride.

Simple, isn’t it?

20% of the folks on a committee do 80% of the work.  20% of the time spent researching onsite often produces 80% of the results. 20% of the reference books we buy are the ones we use 80% of the time.
So, why not just eliminate the 80% of the stuff we don’t need, don’t learn from, don’t generate revenue from or won’t sell and in the process save ourselves a whole lot of time, toil and tears?

Turns out, things aren’t quite as simple as they seemed at first.

Welcome to the wonderful world of “long tails.”  

The “long tail” concept is used to describe that 80% (or more) of something that appears at first glance to be unimportant, unproductive, unprofitable, or unnecessary.  In other words, the stuff that seems to be just taking up space.  The time we spend seemingly without a worthwhile result. 

These are the things that make of the “long tail” of the curve – the things that 80% of the people (or more) are not interested in using or buying.  The 80% of stuff that nobody wants.

That is, until somebody does.

A good part of genealogy and of genealogy businesses is made up of “long tail” items and events.    For example, this morning we processed book orders for three customers (four relatively rare out-of-print books total).  The books had been on our website –fully catalogued and findable using a Google search – for at least five years.  Until today, nobody needed, wanted or had even inquired about them. 

Last week, we processed an order for an original edition 70 year old rare genealogy that has never been reprinted. It too had been on the website for more than five years.  Two days later, we got an email query from somebody else asking if the book was still available.  Five plus years – no interest.  Nada. Last week – bingo – we could have sold the book twice.  

The second potential customer asked if I could find another.  I replied that the copy we had just sold was the only one I had seen for sale since 1977.

All of those books were “long tail” items – not “hot”, not “new” and certainly not quickly salable in large multiple quantities.  In almost any other kind of business, they would have been consigned to perdition years ago as “unsalable.”  In the genealogy book biz, they’re part of the 14,000 plus single-title “long tail” items we keep in stock, waiting for folks to “discover” them.

In fact, that was one of the things I stressed in my talks at NERCG earlier this month and again in my talks at the event in Central New York last Saturday.

There’s a temptation that all researchers have: we want to devote most of our time and effort to the “low hanging fruit”, so to speak.  That would be those easily searchable, easily findable record groups and databases that produce relatively instant gratification.  

But, when push comes to shove, it’s highly likely that you’ll make your best finds – the ones that break down brick walls – in those had-to-find, hard-to-access records that few people use.  These are the “long tail” records that require more time and effort than all the others.

They’re rarely microfilmed, hardly ever digitized and, frankly, not much talked about.

That’s why I called it “Pareto’s Paradox” in the title.  You just never know exactly which 20% of the records that are out there will produce 80% of what you want to know.  Or which 20% of the books you haul to an event will actually sell.

It doesn’t really matter, though.  The fun is in the doing!

Special Note: The term “long tail” rightfully belongs to Chris Anderson, who first used it in this fashion way back in 2005 in his “Wired” magazine article to explain why Amazon was making so much money.  He later expanded and embellished the concept into a book called The Long Tail: Why The Future of Business Is Selling Less Of More.  Here’s a link to his article called (appropriately)  “The Long Tail.”

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Central New York Genealogical Society Conference - Saturday, April 16, 2011

We're Here On Saturday!
In the event that you’ve finished your income taxes AND if you have a free Saturday this coming weekend, AND if you’re going to be in the greater Syracuse, NY area (specifically Dewitt, NY, which is just a hop, skip and jump from Carrier Circle), you just might want to come to the Central New York Genealogical Society’s April Conference which will be held at the Pebble Hill Presbyterian Church, 5299 Jamesville Road. 

I’ll be presenting a three-lecture program AND I’ll have tables of books AND the folks of CNYGS will have home-made stew available for lunch.  Here’s the link to the program so you can see what’s what. 

The current weather forecast suggests that there will be a 90% chance of “precipitation”, which will probably be rain.  Still, it’s April and this is New York, so it might be anything.

Anyway, it doesn’t sound like a great day for gardening.  It’ll be rainy and damp.  Sounds like a "stew for lunch" day to me.

With a conference thrown in for good measure.  With friendly genealogists like yourself.  Who won't look at you all funny-like when you tell them what you do for fun, like lots of your other friends and relatives do...

Come join us if you can.  Registration starts at 8:30 AM.

The Next Next Thing

No, that’s not a typo.  It’s actually supposed to be the “next next” thing.

For genealogists – especially those who like to be close to the technological cutting edge – it’s often all about what’s coming after the “next” thing that everybody already knows is just around the corner.

A few things came across my screens during this post-NERGC week that I thought were worth talking about.   

One of them was HISTORYPIN.

Historypin has its roots in England and focuses on “pinning” photos of people, places and things – all in their proper “time and place” context – to an interactive timelined version of Google Maps. Then, the idea is that people will contribute stories about the images.  To get a sense of how it will work, check out the site here.
Note: it still a “beta” site, so there’s not much out there yet.  Plus, since it got started in England, it has a kind of Anglo-centric orientation right now.  Of course, that’s likely to change as people around the world start pinning images to maps and writing stories about them.  Both institutions and individuals can contribute, and if this takes off, it could be the next next thing.

Then, this Saturday, also in England, (specifically at the Sandwell Borough Archives in West Bromwell), tech-savvy types, geeks, genealogists, historians and the interested public are invited to attend HACK DAY.

This is “hack” in a good way.

The purpose of “Hack Day” is to bring together creative, interested, technologically knowledgeable people who can come up with ways to make the region’s archival treasures more accessible.  Here’s an interesting story about what it’s all about. 

Note that in the story there’s also a direct link to the “Black Country History” website.

I thought I’d give that link a whirl late last night.  Never expected to find anything. Surprise! I was wrong! 

In the space of 30 seconds, I found a will abstract for the grandkids’ 3rd great-grandmother, Anna Maria (Standley) Eglington, wife of the late Ferdinand Eglington and, at the time of her death, wife of Harry George Mantle.  Anna Maria died in 1913 at about 80, and since this is a line I haven’t spent much time on yet, I was pleasantly surprised by the serendipitous discovery. 

The clue (to me) was seeing that the site included material from Walsall in Staffordshire, where the Eglingtons were loriners and had an international business that stretched from Europe to the pampas of Argentina.

(Since you asked … loriners make spurs, and the other bright, shiny, small metal objects used in horse harnesses. Think of them as horse haberdashers…)

By continuing to search on the last names at "Black Country History", I also found a photo (left) of Anna Maria’s grandson, Captain Ferdinand Eglington (1885 – 1916) of the 1st-5th South Staffordshire Regiment, who was killed during the Great War. 

And if this year’s Hack Day is successful, more great stuff might appear.

As far as archives and museums are concerned, the “Hack Day” concept hasn’t yet taken hold on this side of the Atlantic.  Could it be the “next next” thing to get more material online directly at local archives sites?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

NERGC 2011? Is It Soup Yet?

It’s Sunday.  10 April. 7:03 PM.   

Is NERGC over?

For vendors like Jonathan Sheppard Books, the 2011 New England Regional Genealogical Conference (aka “NERGC”) almost came to a close yesterday at 4 PM when the Exhibit Hall closed. 

However, that was just the “close” that the conferees saw. 

For the folks like us in the Exhibit Hall, the work continued. The guys from the decorating company arrived to dismantle and cart away their drapery, drapery pipes, tables and chairs.  Meanwhile, the vendors packed up their boxes and display equipment.  

We worked (two of us) from 4 PM till about 6 PM getting stuff packed up.  Then the fun began.  Moving stuff from the third floor to the first floor loading dock.  While the decorating company was moving their stuff out. While, at the same time, the hotel was moving stuff in for the “dance competition” the next day.

Anyway, here’s what we had to do:

A. Remove books from shelves.  Pack boxes. 

B. Load 4 or 5 boxes of stuff on hand truck.

C. Exit Exhibit Hall with loaded hand truck, turn left, head down service corridor to elevator. Pray that decorating company not using elevator.

D. Ride down three floors and exit near kitchen.

E. Navigate the “backstairs” part of the hotel, past the kitchen, past the employee breakroom, past crates of oranges, and onto loading dock.  Elapsed time: 6 minutes.

F. Lift each of 35 pound boxes and 30 pound bookcases (11 of them) down from the chest-high loading dock and put in van.

G. Repeat steps A through F about 20 times.

Thanks to the folks from our fellow NERGC exhibitors Maia’s Books and Family Chronicle, who willingly gave us a helping hand with the moving, we were able to get our stuff loaded by a little after 7 PM. 

One thing that may not be apparent to the conferees:  the folks in the Exhibit Hall consider each other colleagues, not competitors.  If we’re sold out of a popular in-print title, we refer customers to our colleagues on the floor.   Our colleagues do the same for us. That’s the great thing about this biz – genealogy is a common interest that promotes collegiality. 

None of us will ever get rich doing what we do, but none of us will be without friends, either.

About 2 hours later we were home, the van securely parked.

Today, we started at 9:30 AM with the unloading process.  Every box needed to be removed from the van, and every unsold book needed to be returned to the proper place on the shelves.  We worked until 4:30 PM, and did occasional conference paperwork in between.

There are still boxes in the van that will need to get moved tomorrow, weather permitting.  Then, we’ll do inventory, see what needs to be re-ordered, and start planning for the next event.  There will still be about two full days of accounting, inventory and general record-keeping work that needs to be done before we can declare NERGC 2011 officially “over.”

I’ll be the “all-day” speaker (3 talks) for the Central New York Genealogical Society’s spring event.  Since we’re also exhibiting as “Jonathan Sheppard Books”, we’ll be doing all of the above again, but on a smaller scale.

Yeah, we both have loose screws…otherwise, if we were interested in monetary rewards, we’d wear paper hats, stand behind a counter and ask customers, “Would you like fries with that?”

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Van's Ready: Time For "Speaker Mode"

Now that the van is packed, I'll be heading east to the New England Regional Genealogical Conference (NERGC) momentarily.  Meanwhile, I’m in full NERGC “speaker” mode, at least for a while. 

Fortunately, my first talk isn’t until late Friday afternoon – in that last time block before “Happy Hour” (4:45 PM – 5:45 PM)

That talk (which, in your program is F231-   “Sixty Hours a Week, Ten Cents An Hour:  Records of New England’s Industrial Heritage”) takes on a topic that doesn’t often get much serious attention by genealogists. Still, it’s important to remember that if your ancestor – male or female – worked as a mill operative, a factory worker, even as a shoemaker or hatmaker, or any number of jobs, he or she probably spent more time with co-workers and bosses than with spouse and family. 

Decisions about where to live, where to move, where to shop and where to worship were often heavily influenced by a person’s job.  Job-related records were created that can help today’s genealogists in a number of ways.  Reports were written that can today provide insight into an ancestor’s daily life.  Things were published that contain key genealogical facts, most of which are never looked at by genealogists.

I’ll be showcasing several key industries and pointing you in the direction of records that can help you in your search for more complete information.  Plan on joining me late Friday afternoon.  I’ll work hard not to cut into your “Happy Hour” time.

The next morning, you can drop by for my “wake up” talk at 8:30 AM.  The topic might well pop your eyes wide open when you learn about all the records dealing with both public and private charity that still exist.  If the terms “outdoor” versus “indoor” relief, and the “law of settlement” are not in your vocabulary yet, or if you’re not sure about when the “Age of the Asylum” began or what it meant, plan on dropping by.  The talk is called “When The Trail Leads To The Almshouse And Cold Charity” (it’s S-304 in your program). 

One of the most important concepts that I’ll keep trying to underscore is that the records of charity don’t just deal with the poor; lots of folks find themselves in these records because of their occupations, empathetic natures or specific skills.  Think of it this way:  when we talk about the records of “medical care”, for example, we’re usually talking about more than just sick people.  We’re more often than not also talking about health care providers, hospitals & clinics and the folks who build and staff them, nurses, the drug industry, the medical equipment engineers, the whole ball of wax.  “Medical Care” is more than sick people; it’s a whole industry.   

The “public and private charity” thing I’ll be talking about as a lot like that.  A whole industry, producing voluminous records, naming names from all walks of life.

Chances are, you’ll find something of interest in each of these talks. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The End Of Packing Is In Sight! The Van Is Being Loaded! (well... sort of...)

Things are going a bit more slowly than I expected.  

The morning rain was supposed to stop by noon.  It didn't.  Now, it's raining and lightly snowing, with a touch of sleet mixed in for good measure. 

Did I ever tell you that Upstate is delightful in early April? Yeah, we have mud season here, too.

Since books don't like to get their little book feet wet, we're waiting for a break in the weather and planning out our next loading move in the event the rain keeps on falling.

When we load the van, the trick is making it all fit inside in a non-hazardous way.  In other words, avoiding driver and front passenger concussion or decapitation from flying wooden bookcases is the basic idea. That’s one of the reasons we use uniformly sized boxes.  That way, it’s kind of like an exercise in bricklaying. Done right, the weight is equally distributed and nothing shifts (too much).

The first things to go in are the aforementioned folding wooden bookcases, and that’s already done.  Next are the boxes of out-of-print books, the contents of some of which I drew your attention to earlier this week.  Maps, manuscripts, ephemera bins, display panels, folding tables, table covers, bookends and book stands – they’ll all go in last, along with the luggage, the LCD projector for my talks and other odds and ends.

In between, we’ll pack the “new” in-print books.

What sort of things, you ask?  Well, we’ll have copies of a new book by Christine Rose (FASG) on using military bounty land records.  The book was just was released two weeks ago.  If you think that this would be outside your “area” since you had stay-at-home New England ancestors, you’d be dead wrong, especially if one of your guys served in the Rev. War, the War of 1812 or anything before the Civil War and thereby received a sale-able warrant.  We’ll also have Ms. Rose’s books on courthouse research and courthouse indexes, her book on nicknames and her handy book on the Genealogical Proof Standard.   

You also find a stack of Elizabeth Mills’ “Evidence” and “Evidence Explained”, as well as her “Quick Sheet” guides to source documentation.  And yes, we’ll also Diane Rapaport’s “New England Court Records.”

Then there are the new GPC “At A Glance” laminated reference guides (much like the “Quick Sheets” in style and format) on Irish, Scottish and French Canadian research.

Of course, we’ll have many of the NERGC speakers’ books.  There will be books by Colleen Fitzpatrick, John Colletta, Maureen Taylor and Leslie Huber.  We’ll have books on a variety of ethnic topics - Irish, Italian, Welsh, Scottish, African American, Hispanic and …, oh, well, you get the idea.

 Plus, there will be a number of new books that we’re fond of, but that you may have never heard of, since they’re not talked about much in genealogical circles.  Nonetheless, they’re great references.
You can see them for yourself when the Exhibit Hall opens Thursday night.  Now you know why we have four (count ‘em, FOUR) booths. 

In my next reincarnation, I’m going to concentrate on rare stamps. Or maybe autographs. Anything lightweight that doesn’t require a strong back and a van to get ‘em from place to place.

Monday, April 4, 2011

PACKING FOR NERGC – PART DREI (Okay, So Maybe We Should Just Bring Everything!)

Around here, we’re suckers for ephemera.  

For those not completely familiar with the term, it means (at least, in bookseller-speak) something – either printed or handwritten – that was produced for a very specific reason, but was not intended to be saved for any long period of time.

For example, those receipts you get from the grocery store with coupons printed on the back?  That’s ephemera.  Your cell phone bill? Ephemera.  A party invitation or the junk mail selling you lawn fertilizer?  Ephemera, too.  Today, they’re worthless.  Three hundred years from now, historians will drool over today’s junk mail and will use it to document 21st US culture. 

These days, however, most booksellers take a broader view of what ephemera is, since 18th century junk mail is hard to come by.  Ephemera can be a pamphlet, a small notebook or even small book. It can be a handwritten 18th century receipt for lumber. In our NERGC booth, we’ll have three crates of interesting  ephemera with pieces relating to each of the New England states,  New York and eastern Canada, along with some handsome display pieces.

For example, I just finished writing the description for two long handwritten and signed account receipts for blacksmithing work by Zaccheus Pond of Watertown, Massachusetts for a man named Samuel Stearns.  There’s a list of all the jobs performed for Stearns from 1810 through 1814.  I also finished a 1795 “love and affection” manuscript deed from Eleazer and Abigail Mitchel of Southbury CT to their daughter Hannah, wife of Zephaniah H. Smith of Glastonbury.  

Last night, I described a tailor/seamstress accounting sheet from Camden, Oneida County, New York for sewing jobs performed for local residents between September 1841 and July 1842.  A day and a quarter’s work was valued at 38 cents.  

Anytime you can find a list of rural residents in between census years in mid 19th century central New York, you have what could well be a genealogically significant item.  Think documenting an individual in a particular place and a particular time by finding his/her name on a tailor’s accounting record.

We’ll also have a copy of the September 1938 Rhode Island “Hurricane” book with great photos of the damage done and lists of the cottages destroyed.  Plus, I catalogued a number of funeral sermons just for NERGC.  There will also be lots of pamphlets on local history, church history and the like.  There’s a truly rare piece that documents Armenian-American soldiers in World War II, with photos and capsule biographies. There are no copies in WorldCat and none being offered for sale anywhere.

Later today, I’ll sort out some original maps and prints.  One of the ones I’ve already picked is an original Thomas Worth woodcut that was published in Harper’s Weekly showing the 1870 census-taker interviewing folks on the porch.  This link will show you what it looks like.   Note that ours is the original engraving from Harper’s, not a reproduction.

You have to admit it would look great framed and hanging in your office.

If you’d prefer something a bit older, we’ll also have a circa 1791 copperplate engraving of “View of the Attack On Bunker’s Hill, With the Burning of Charles Town, June 17, 1775”.  Yes, there’s some minor foxing and light wear.  Still, if you were born in 1791 like this engraving, you’d be foxed and lightly worn, too.  The print is triple-matted and ready for your frame.

The list goes on and on.

Today is Monday and we’re getting down to the wire.  Next, we'll have to make sure it all fits in the van!