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Tips of You Ever Want to Research at the National Archives

I’ve finished with both my Civil War ancestors at the National Archives. I was really completely unprepared for how this whole thing was going to work, so I thought I might share some tips of anyone else decides to do some research there.

  • You can bring your own flatbed scanner. I knew this ahead of time, so I brought mine. But a lot of documents are larger than the standard 8.5×11, so a standard consumer scanner meant for modern documents will fall short. If you can afford it, take a large format flat bed. The Archives does have one, but it’s usually being used by someone else.
  • Be well hydrated ahead of time. They don’t allow any food or drink in the research room for obvious reasons, and it’s warm and dry. I was nearly ready to swill straight out of the Potomac by the time I got done.
  • Don’t bring any more equipment than you can carry in. They do provide carts if you absolutely can’t carry your scan-o-magic 8000 deluxe, but everything is searched going in and out. No bags, or anything you can stuff anything into. They don’t check your pants though, so Sandy Berger is still good.
  • The archives provides free locker space, but bring a quarter for the key slot. They also have a cafeteria.
  • The research room is under guard and heavy surveillance. It’s pretty safe to leave your stuff and go catch a break.
  • Bring a power strip. They have plugs under the desks, but one is occupied by your desk lamp. I chose to go without the desk lamp.
  • Civil War pension files tend to be much much larger than you would expect. It took a good solid two hours to scan each one, though I have an 8.5×11 scanner, so I had to do a lot of shifting of larger documents to capture everything.
  • The Archive staff are incredibly helpful and nice.
  • It’s really easy to get a researchers badge. Basically follow a power point presentation on how not to destroy history, and on how they do things, and it’s yours. Pay attention though because they explain how you request and check out documents.

I was really surprised. It’s interesting to hold original documents that your 3x great grandfather wrote by hand in ink. Because the Archives stores these documents under pretty ideal conditions, 150 year old documents look better than some of my family documents from the 1950s and 60s.

And just for those anti-gunners that act like no gun ever killed someone before Satan invented the semi-automatic firearm and marketed to paranoid gun nuts, reading the description of what happened to my 3rd great-grandfather at Antietam was pretty horrific. I’d like to see someone tell him that those old muskets weren’t fine killing machines.

First, the mini ball blew his right thumb clean off. Then it entered his chest about 4 inches below the nipple. It blew one of his ribs apart. According to one surgeon’s report, the ball passed between his lung and liver, and exited near his spinal column. Another later physicians report said the lung had been shot through, because he later received a pension increase for that wound due to breathing issues. I would think shot through the lung would be fatal back then, but maybe his lung was nonetheless still damaged. I’m sure there were bits of rib floating around in his body.

The Political Power of Gun Owners

Right now, if all goes according to schedule, Sebastian and I are likely in the National Archives looking over the Civil War pension applications from two of his ancestors and one of mine. This new genealogy hobby has opened the door to new political issues for us since, as you might expect from an overly expansive government, there are efforts to shut down resources utilized by genealogists. Since someone, somewhere might possibly misuse data, we must ban the estimated 80 million genealogists in the country from access to vital information!

What I found interesting and relevant to post on this blog was a peek at the influence of NRA on the political process compared to some other interest groups.

Back in 2012, there was a hearing held on the uses and value of the Social Security death records, and genealogists were not even on the witness list. In fact, it goes further than that:

No genealogist has ever been permitted to testify at a hearing regarding the SSDI. Melinde Lutz Byrne, at that time President of the American Society of Genealogists, sat in the hearing audience when Commissioner Astrue uttered his remarks. Her in-person testimony was banned by Chairman Sam Johnson.

Can you imagine a situation where Congress would refuse to listen to any pro-gun group at all on any major gun issue? Let’s face it, even if they only invite NRA to try and pick on them, even anti-gun lawmakers tend to want to hear from the opposition for at least political points. That doesn’t mean they take the pro-rights arguments seriously, but at least they allow a voice to be heard. The genealogists can’t even be heard – not even once.

I just found that to be an interesting little perspective on how hard gun owners have worked to be taken seriously. Now we just need some 2014 election wins to help remind lawmakers why they should keep listening to us.

UFA Renewal Passes Senate

Passed by unanimous consent, which is effectively the same as 100-0, but it looks like Chuck Schumer is going to remain disappointed. This is not a victory of any sort — we simply avoided losing more ground — but I don’t mind Schumer remaining disappointed.

Quote of the Day: ATF Sting Edition

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel deserves some kudos for something you don’t see much of these days: real reporting. The article details that the botched tactics used in Milwaukee weren’t limited to that city. It includes this gem of a quote:

“To say this is just a few people, a few bad apples, I don’t buy it,” said David Harris, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and an expert on law enforcement tactics and regulation. “If your agency is in good shape with policy, training, supervision and accountability, the bad apples will not be able to take things to this level.”

The fish rots from the head. “A few bad apples,” was the excuse for Fast and Furious too. Is Jones doing anything at all to clean up the agency? Not that any of us had high hopes, or really any hope at all, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Petty Tyrants & Nannies

You’ll need to pardon me for venting, but I’m just getting really sick of petty tyrants and nanny staters in all walks of life. It’s not just in the gun issue. It turns out that my newest hobby – genealogy – has some rather extreme examples, as I have recently discovered.

Getting into genealogy, you quickly learn that you will never stop learning and that you’ll never know everything. You have to understand people, families, history, local issues to where everyone was living, etc. The best example of just how complicated it can get just doing the paperwork genealogy is in this summary of a shifting political boundary situation highlighted in a DAR brochure: “Thus, in 1800, a man who had lived on the same land in Mason County for less than a quarter of a century had resided in two states and five counties, and he had not moved an inch!” This doesn’t include the nightmare of different record keeping requirements for different times and states. In other words, you have to be a naturally curious person who is eager to learn in order to effectively and correctly conduct genealogical research.

Now, mix in genetic genealogy. This means taking DNA tests to discover genetic cousins who you might not have found yet doing traditional genealogy. This also means learning even more about science so you know how to use those results, along with everything you need to know about traditional genealogy. In other words, you have to be a seriously inquisitive person to really take up this hobby. Sebastian and I are pretty inquisitive folks, so we’ve been learning quite a lot as we go along.

To supplement our learning, I joined a Facebook group set up by super users of an atDNA comparison tool to learn from the conversations and questions that come up there. It’s administered by a couple of women who are very experienced with genetics, so I have learned some things. (For example, there’s a ~50% chance that any of your given 4th cousins won’t show up as a DNA match, despite the fact that you both likely carry at least some DNA from the people who were your common ancestors.) However, I recently discovered that these women are kind of psychotic gatekeepers. It’s like the worst stereotypes of the church trying to keep the masses uneducated for their own good in that place.

I merely argued that Maryland’s current system that restricts DNA testing through companies like 23andMe is silly because people shouldn’t be given barriers to their own genetic information. Good lord, it’s like I advocated for complete anarchy. “But people might get confused!” “But people might not interpret something correctly!” “What if someone makes a bad decision?” Suggesting that people make poor decisions every day and that there are already many things that confuse many people, and that maybe confusion is what inspires learning got me banned. Yup, banned. (More about the NY & MD restrictions on DNA testing here if you’re interested.)

We’re not talking guns here, folks. We’re talking education. They were appalled that I would suggest opening up the doors of testing that might lead more people to better understand their own personal DNA. I was actually criticized for being possibly more reasonable than other people and daring to assume that others are even capable of being as logical as I might be.

But it didn’t stop there.

Someone posted a link to a genetic genealogy blogger who recently solved a 30-year genealogy mystery through DNA connections and she used thresholds lower than normal to do it. They are normally thresholds of measuring DNA that aren’t worth investigating because they are too small to easily point you in the right direction. However, because this woman has discovered many genetic cousins and identified their common ancestors, she knows how to effectively use these smaller connections and tells people about her success. In the group run by petty tyrants, she was condemned for daring to share her discovery because somewhere, someone might possibly read it and get their hopes up about making connections on these small shared DNA segments.

So, in other words, they are against giving people access to their DNA results since someone might get confused. They are against bloggers blogging about how they have successfully used DNA results to make genealogical discoveries because someone might get confused. They are against allowing conversation on topics which might confuse people, too. (They recently announced a ban in the group on conversations about smaller segment DNA matches since even the conversation might confuse people.) To me, it was like the BS that Chicago initially tried to pull after McDonald – you need training, but we won’t allow ranges where you can learn. The same thing in Boston (assuming they still do this) where you have to shoot a certain score on a target to get your gun license, but you can’t buy your own handgun to practice with until you get the license.

I don’t know how you solve this problem when their ultimate goal is to keep people stupid. Clearly, this is not a new attitude in human history. We’ve seen it repeated over and over. Regardless, it still drives me nuts since I can’t seem to get away from them, even when I take up a new hobby!

New Rules on Lost and Stolen Guns?

Apparently the Obama Administration are drafting new rules, along with ATF, who know a thing or two about losing track of guns, I hear:

Currently, gun dealers with a federal license are required to tell federal agents after they discover a firearm has gone missing, but they aren’t required to do routine checks.

“They can discover a gun missing today and have no idea when it went missing, which really makes that information useless to law enforcement,” said Chelsea Parsons, associate director of crime and firearms policy at the Center for American Progress.

The White House office has 90 days to review the proposed rule before releasing it to the public and allowing them to comment.
My guess is they will require inventory be taken on some ridiculous and burdensome regular interval. Anything to harass more dealers out of the business. What’s interesting it that appropriations riders prevent ATF from implementing such a rule. This is definitely something to keep an eye on.

Less Than Sober Police Can Arrest You For Being More Sober

Did you know that in Ohio, some police officers are allowed to be on their way to legal intoxication, get in a car, drive to pull over other motorists, and arrest people who have lower BACs than the officer making the arrest? This special protection is offered through union contracts, and chiefs who have been disturbed by the double standard can’t get it removed.

This is just a reminder that it’s not just on gun issues that we see special protections for police officers who may have the authority to arrest a citizen for engaging in the same kind of behavior that isn’t hurting anyone else.

Quote of the Day: Government Screw-Ups Edition

Tam shares my befuddlement that people are shocked, SHOCKED that the government could possibly screw up something as big as Obamacare.

The naive credulity these people have towards the power of government, their blind faith that they can tamper with the machinery without it hurting anybody, differs in kind nor quality not one lick from the most snake-handlin’ Pentecostal’s faith that Jesus will keep the serpent from biting.

They look down on people of faith, but they are just as much the same. Even worse, because they put their faith in men.

The Gift the Keeps on Giving

More dead people in Mexico thanks to the Obama Administration’s gun walking scandal… err… sorry… grenade walking scandal. This scandal would have brought down a Republican administration, had something like this happened on their watch. But as it is, it was too easily dismissed as the work of lower-level incompetence.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, the title is sarcastic.

Justice Ginsberg and the Second Amendment

Justice Ginsberg still believes in the militia theory of the Second Amendment, but I think it’s good she doesn’t feel any pressure to retire while Barack Obama is President. She believes the next President will be a Democrat anyway. It’s a gamble for the Heller dissent. If Ginsburg retired during Obama’s Administration, there’d be a strong likelihood she’d be replaced by another justice who would like to overturn the Heller decision and redact the Second Amendment right out of the Bill of Rights.

But I don’t really blame Justice Ginsburg for wanting to hang on. For one thing, she might be right about a Democrat winning in 2016. Conventional wisdom for Democrats in DC is that the Republicans are finished, and they need not worry about losing the White House again. I think that’s wildly optimistic on their part, but it’s a common belief. The other reason I don’t blame her is I’m not sure I’d want to retire either. What would you do all day? I’d find things to amuse myself, sure, but I’d imagine Justice Ginsburg’s work is far more interesting than anything one would typically find for amusement in retirement.

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