30 May 2012

Blogroll Added!

As promised, I've added a blogroll of other great genealogy blogs. Many of these were recommended by Lisa Louise Cooke in her "Family History: Genealogy Made Easy" podcast, and created  by listeners to the show. The blogs often chronicle the writer's research process, but each writer takes a distinctly personal approach, so each blog has its own flavor. Some of the blogs have been updated recently, while others haven't had a new post in several years, but I'm going to be scanning them all for hints, tips, and tricks on how to make this blog better. I'll also be on the lookout for other genealogy and family history blogs that I can add to the roll.

By the way, even though Lisa Louise Cooke has not released a new episode of the Family History podcast in several years, I still find the existing episodes useful for beginning genealogists like me.. Her current podcast, "Genealogy Gems," seems to be aimed at more experienced genealogists, but a newcomer can still pick up lots of useful information. I recommend both shows.

27 May 2012

Searching For Dad

William Stewart Leslie (1923-2005)
As I've said before, I'm a rookie genealogist, but I do know that the cardinal rule of this undertaking is to start with yourself and work backward. Wouldn't you know it, the moment I begin working backward to the generation preceding me, my father's generation, I run into a problem--and a possible solution.

I've also said before that as part of this project, I'd like to know more about what my father, William Stewart Leslie (1923-2005) did during World War II. Perhaps there were some things he didn't want me to know, or things he would have rather forgotten. One of my great regrets after his death in 2005 was that I had never asked him more about what he did during those years. He would tell us kids funny stories, things that made the whole experience sound like a lark, an episode of "Hogan's Heroes," or a Boy Scout camping trip. I knew that he served in the U.S. Ninth Air Force, was stationed in England for a time, and flew P-51 fighter planes, but that was about it. I never even knew what specific unit or units he belonged to.

After the dedication of the World War II Veterans Memorial, after he died, and after the release of films such as Saving Private Ryan and The War, Ken Burns's mammoth documentary series about World War II, I resolved to find out more about Dad's military service. I wrote to the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis twice in 2007 asking for copies of Dad's service record, but they were unable to locate any information about him. It's possible that I did not have enough specific information about him to locate his records, or it may be possible that his records were lost. The NPRC sent me back a form letter explaining that a fire there in 1973 damaged or destroyed thousands of records, and from the way the letter described the damage to the building, Dad's records would have been stored where the damage was worst.

In the meantime, I did a Google search for "U. S. Ninth Air Force in World War II" and turned up the marvelously useful ArmyAirForces.com website. Here, veterans, children and grandchildren of veterans, researchers, and military history buffs can meet in cyberspace, ask and answer questions, and exchange information. There I learned that the military service that preceded the current U. S. Air Force was known as the U. S. Army Air Forces (plural) as distinct from the Army Air Corps. I also learned about Craig Fuller's Aviation Archaeological Investigation and Research (AAIR) website which maintains a database of accident reports involving World War II aircraft. When I searched the database, I found that "Leslie, William S." of the 15th Squadron, 73rd Reconnaissance Group,was involved in two training accidents near what was then Camp Campbell, KY. One of them involved a P-51.

At about the same time, my brother Allen discovered a set of dog tags bearing what appears to be a serial number: "0-668096.T 42-43" On 17 May of this year I submitted a new request for Dad's service records to the NPRC with this new number as the serial number, in the hopes that this would lead to Dad's records finally being found, if they still exist. I'm still waiting for a reply.

In the meantime, I'm about to order copies of the two accidents that appear to involve my Dad, on the theory that such reports would certainly contain his serial number, rank, and information about what units he was assigned to. I also downloaded a sample accident report from AAIR's database to see what one looked like. What I found there encourages me that I may have found Dad's actual serial number. The serial numbers of the officers in the sample report match the pattern of the apparent serial number on the dog tag: a zero (or possibly the letter "O" for officer) and a hyphen followed by a string of six additional digits. Even if the serial number for "Leslie, William S." in the reports and the apparent serial number on the dog tag don't match, I think I'll be one step closer to finding out about this hidden period in my Dad's life.

25 May 2012

The Paper Chase : How Do I Organize Paper Files?

Not an actual representation of my desk--but close!
Can any of my fellow genealogists out there in the blogosphere suggest a simple but effective filing system so that I know what I have and where I can find it? How do you keep track of the paper records and sources you find in your research?

When I decided to get serious about doing genealogical and family history research, it seemed to me that a logical place to start was with an inventory of all the information I already had. I have a yellow folder labeled "Genealogy" that holds random scraps, tidbits, and snippets of information that I had acquired over the years from goodness knows where: copies of old letters, newspaper clippings, printouts from useful websites, handwritten notes, hard copies of e-mails, and even information of uncertain origin and provenance that people had given me. I have no idea how to organize this stuff to make the best use of it. Believe it or not, I used to be a cataloging librarian, but cataloging this material according to library standards seems like overkill for what I have in mind. I simply want to know what I have and where it is.

I've considered a couple of options already: a separate file for papers pertaining to each person in my family tree database; or a separate file for each type of document I have, including wills, letters, e-mails, web pages, notes, etc. The types of documents would essentially create a system of categories that I could use to organize my files.

At first, I thought a person-based system of files might be the way to go, but then I realized that as my research continues and I find out about more relatives and ancestors and acquire more documents about them, my files could become huge. Shamele Jordon, host of the Genealogy on Demand podcast and blog favors a simple type of category system instead. There's much merit in this suggestion, but I'm not sure what categories to use. I suppose I can only start with the ones I have.

For lack of a better idea and until I make a final decision, I simply numbered each document, put all the documents back in the yellow folder, and created a numbered, annotated list of documents. I know that's probably not standard or recommended genealogical or archival practice, but I had to start somewhere. Consider it a rookie mistake. If my old cataloging instructor from library school knew that I did that, she'd probably demand my degree back!

If you have discovered or developed a simple but useful filing system for paper documents, please let me know. Leave a comment or send me an e-mail. I'd love to have the benefit of your thinking and experience. Until next time!

20 May 2012

So What's This Blog About, Anyway?

Leslie Castle
Castle Leslie in Abedeenshire, Scotland where my ancestors lived.
Statue of Vulcan in Birmingham, Alabama, where my father was born.
And who's this guy writing it?

Hi, I'm Neil Leslie (aka Niall Mor, or "Big Neil" in Scottish Gaelic) and welcome to the blog chronicling my adventures in pursuit of my ancestors: the Leslie and Leatherwood families of south central Alabama; the Moffatt family of northern Florida; and the Roberts and Allen families of central South Carolina--along with whoever else might show up. The title reflects my preliminary or working assumption (perhaps I should call it a theory or hypothesis) that my family originated in Aberdeenshire in northeastern Scotland, immigrated to the United States, and somehow, over several generations, worked its way to south central Alabama, where my paternal grandfather was born. That mysterious "somehow" is the subject of my search.

I also blog over at "It's All Straw" on everything from Catholicism to comic books, but I'm starting this blog because I've become interested in family history and genealogy again and have decided to see what I can find out about the Leslie family. My ultimate goal with the Leslie family is to find out who came over on the boat. Who came over on the boat to America presumably from  Scotland? How did the family wind up in Alabama where my father was born, and where from what I can tell, the family had lived for several generations?

 As a more short-term but related goal (which may evolve into a separate project), I'd like to know more about my father's military service in World War II. One of my great regrets is that I never asked him more about the specifics of what he did. I've made inquiries a couple of times and tried to obtain a copy of his service record but come up empty. It's possible that I don't have enough specific information to locate his specific records, or it may be possible that his records were lost. Just as I'm going to try again to find information about my father's military service, I'm going to try again to find out more about my family.

 I say “again” because I've been interested in family history for years but never did any systematic or thorough research. My interest in family history probably started when I was a boy and I learned that Leslie was a Scottish surname and there was a Leslie family tartan. My older brothers received Leslie tartan ties from my parents, but I didn't. Jealousy can be a very powerful motivator! Each tie came with a little placard summarizing the history of the Scottish Leslies. I must have read that card a hundred times, but without any context for the people and place names, I lost interest and forgot the details. In 1985, I was fortunate enough to go to Scotland (and get my own Leslie tie) but I wasn't able to do any family history research.

My latent interest in family history revived in the 1990s when I got a computer with internet access and I found out about the vast quantity of genealogical and family history information that was gradually becoming available in cyberspace. Back then, however, most of the stuff that was available was posted by government agencies, individuals, or networks of genealogists working on their own. If I remember correctly, sites such as Rootsweb were still privately maintained, and aggregate sites for genealogical information such as Ancestry.com were just taking off. ("You young people have it so easy nowadays," he says in best grumpy old man voice).

The next goad for me to do family history research was my parents' 50th wedding anniversary in 1999. I met relatives I'd never met before and heard stories I'd never heard before. I started collecting scraps of information here and there, but nothing complete. I wish I had started collecting and compiling more vigorously because my parents were with us only a few more years after that – my Dad, William Stewart Leslie, passed away in 2005, and my Mom, Cecelia Roberts Leslie, passed away in 2006. (*See my policy on names over there to the right*). I lost access to their memories and recollections.

In the years since then, it's bothered me that I don't have a more complete picture of our family history. I've tried to construct a genealogy, but my knowledge is fragmentary, incomplete, and  unreliable. My older brothers and sisters have become aware of my interest in genealogy and recently my brother Bill offered to pay for a year's access to the Ancestry.com website as a birthday present. I've accepted that offer. I've also started watching the TV series “Who Do You Think You Are?” in which celebrities find out about their family histories. I finally decided that if celebrities can do it, I can do it. I'll have more to say about the show later.

I started this blog because I wanted a place to write down anecdotes, tidbits, questions, and scraps of information that might suggest directions for further research. I would welcome comments, queries, tips, tricks, and gentle corrections. For now, I've decided to focus my attention on the Leslie family because I honestly don't know much about them. My Dad's sister, my aunt Elizabeth Leslie LeCroy, was something of a family historian, but she passed away in 1984. She passed on some of what she knew to her daughters (and my cousins) Jeanne and Marie Ann. They have added to what Elizabeth knew and shared it with me, but I need to review what I have. We know a bit more about my mother's family, the Roberts, because my uncle Eddie has become something of a family historian and has a good bit of information about the Roberts and related families.

Thank you so much for visiting my new blog today. If you like what you've read (or even if you don't), please leave a comment. A blogroll and an RSS feed will be added soon, so be sure to check back with us often. Haste ye back!