My Grandmother’s Divorce

Wyoming State Archives website
Wyoming State Archives

I work­ing to declut­ter my home and put valu­able and rare genealog­i­cal doc­u­ments in order. In this process, I have been going through some, until now, neglect­ed doc­u­ments that were passed down to me, and find­ing some sur­pris­es.

I had been think­ing about see­ing what I could do about get­ting my grand­moth­er Helen Harris’s divorce papers from the Wyoming State Archives. Divorce records are avail­able 50 years after the date of the event, if you can pro­vide enough detail to locate the records. Of course, I would have the names of both the par­ties (F. Ralph Har­ris and Helen Hill Har­ris), though I would not have known who the plain­tiff was and who the defen­dant was. I did know the rough time­frame (some time between 1941 and 1947).

How­ev­er, I know all of this infor­ma­tion now, as I may have more doc­u­men­ta­tion on the divorce than the state of Wyoming does. I cer­tain­ly have dif­fer­ent doc­u­men­ta­tion: In addi­tion to the signed divorce peti­tion and decree, and the prop­er­ty set­tle­ment and child cus­tody agree­ment, I have the let­ters sent to my grand­moth­er from her attor­ney.

Here is a tran­scrip­tion of the decree of divorce.






The above enti­tled mat­ter com­ing on reg­u­lar­ly to he heard upon the Peti­tion of F. Ralph Har­ris, the Plain­tiff above named, to which an Answer has been filed by Helen Hill Har­ris, the Defen­dant above named, and the said F. Ralph Har­ris being present in Court in per­son and by his attor­ney and said Helen Hill Har­ris, the Defen­dant above named, being rep­re­sent­ed by R. G. Diefend­er­fer, Esq., her attor­ney, and said Plain­tiff hav­ing been put to strict proof the Court finds that each and every alle­ga­tion in Plaintiff’s peti­tion con­tained is true and that the prayer there­of should be allowed.

The Court fur­ther finds that on or about the 17th day of June, 1943, the par­ties here­to entered into a Prop­er­ty Set­tle­ment and Child Cus­tody Agree­ment and that said Prop­er­ty Set­tle­ment and Child Cus­tody Agree­ment should be made part of this Decree.

IT IS, THEREFORE, HEREBY ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that F. Ralph Har­ris, the Plain­tiff above named, be and his is here­by grant­ed an absolute decree of divorce from Helen Hill Har­ris, the Defen­dant above named.

IT IS FURTHER HEREBY ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that that cer­tain Prop­er­ty Set­tle­ment and Child Cus­tody Agree­ment made and entered into upon the 17th day of June, 1943, a copy there­of being attached to Plaintiff’s Peti­tion, be and the same is here­by made a part of this Decree.

DONE IN OPEN COURT on this the 11th day of Feb­ru­ary, 1946.

James H. Burgess

Approved as to form

As I said, there is also the cor­re­spon­dence between R. G. Diefend­er­fer and my grand­moth­er, or at least his side of it. Addi­tion­al­ly, the doc­u­ments include a dual nota­rized copy of the Prop­er­ty Set­tle­ment and Child Cus­tody Agree­ment.

The let­ters from the attor­ney to my grand­moth­er con­tain some notable moments. They begin on August 9, 1945, with:

Dear Mrs. Har­ris:

Your let­ter of August 7th was at hand this morn­ing and I note that you will not accede to your husband’s desire that your ring be returned to him. I will gov­ern myself accord­ing­ly.

Lat­er in the let­ter we see ref­er­ences to the attor­ney hav­ing seen Mrs. Har­ris “when I last talked with you at your apart­ment.” She was claim­ing pay­ment was due per the agreed set­tle­ment. He not­ed that the due date was the 10th, and advised her thus: “you must keep your hus­band advised of your address and if you have not already done so, please inform him there­of at once.” She was now liv­ing at 312 7th Avenue, Spencer Park, Hast­ings, Nebras­ka, and the attor­ney and her hus­band remained in Sheri­dan, Wyoming.

On Sep­tem­ber 25, 1945, there is this:

Dear Mrs. Har­ris:

Your recent let­ters have remained unan­swered because I have been extreme­ly busy in the tri­al of cas­es. How­ev­er, I con­tact­ed Mr. Gar­butt yes­ter­day morn­ing and he will hand to me a copy of your husband’s Peti­tion and of the Sum­mons.

What I do not have in F. Ralph Harris’s peti­tion for divorce. This may or may not be with the divorce papers, but now that I have the exact date of the divorce, and know who the plain­tiff and defen­dant are, get­ting these doc­u­ments should be sim­ple.

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Archival Publications: Newspapers and Magazines

“A Stage Ride to Col­orado,” Harper’s Mag­a­zine, July 1867

Many geneal­o­gists are aware of his­tor­i­cal news­pa­pers, and search them out on,, and the Library of Con­gress. But there are some impor­tant archival pub­li­ca­tions that are avail­able with the orig­i­nal pub­lish­ers.

Harper’s Mag­a­zine has been pub­lish­ing month­ly issues since July 1850. Cur­rent suscribers to the mag­a­zine have access to all of the con­tent of the mag­a­zine from its ini­tial run until the cur­rent month.

If you are lucky, you will find an arti­cle, as I have done, which talks about an event your ances­tor was involved in.

The arti­cle, “A Stage Ride to Col­orado” by Theodore R. Davis cov­ers the stage coach route through Kansas to Den­ver, which was guard­ed by the 1st US Vol­un­teers. My 3rd great grand­fa­ther, Thomas David Via, was a team­ster in the 1st US Vol­un­teers. This group of sol­diers, the first “Gal­va­nized Yan­kees,” joined the Fed­er­al army from Point Look­out Prison Camp for Con­fed­er­ates in order to avoid what was a prob­a­ble death in the prison. Because they had been Con­fed­er­ates, they end­ed up get­ting sent out to the West to fight the wars against the Indi­ans, who had been in rebel­lion because the Fed­er­al troops were pre­oc­cu­pied with com­bat­ting the Con­fed­er­ates.

Harper's Magazine
Harper’s Mag­a­zine

But, even if your fam­i­ly and its expe­ri­ences are not cov­ered by Harper’s Mag­a­zine, it remains an impor­tant chron­i­cle of Amer­i­can life and cul­ture. Geneal­o­gists would be served well by read­ing con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous jour­nal­ism to under­stand the times, if not the life, of the sub­jects of their research.

You might also con­sid­er look­ing at the archives of the New York Times. The Times posts every arti­cle pub­lished since 1851. (There is a small fee for down­load­ing the con­tent.)

Tomor­row, I will write about what I found at the Times about an ances­tral cold case from 1854.



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WDYTYA Episode 205: Lionel Richey

Morgan W. Brown, Possibly Lionel Richey's Great Great Grandfather
Mor­gan W. Brown: Lionel Richey’s Great Great Grand­fa­ther?

Fri­day night, NBC aired the fifth episode of the sec­ond sea­son of Who Do You Think You Are?, its flag­ship geneal­o­gy real­i­ty TV show.

The show is more com­pelling, with a quick­er pro­gres­sion of facts and dis­cov­er­ies, and a focus on the emo­tion­al and very human reac­tion the celebri­ties expe­ri­ence as they dis­cov­er, or are pre­sent­ed with genealog­i­cal facts. Lionel Richey is pre­sent­ed with a real­i­ty about his great grand­fa­ther, John Louis Brown. Brown appeared both to have aban­doned his fam­i­ly and been sued for divorce by his wife. In addi­tion to being appar­ent­ly about 35 years the senior of his wife, he was also a man who was born a slave, edu­cat­ed and freed, and who was the leader of a nation­al black fra­ter­nal orga­ni­za­tion, the Knights of Wise Men.

It’s quite an inter­est­ing and pow­er­ful show. Richey is con­front­ed with the lega­cy of slav­ery, but also with incred­i­ble strength of pur­pose to raise for­mer slaves to equal­i­ty of sta­tion. He may also have dis­cov­ered an ances­tral con­nec­tion with a white slave­hold­ing fam­i­ly.

Pro­fes­sion­al geneal­o­gists will con­tin­ue to quib­ble about the way doc­u­ments are han­dled (usu­al­ly with­out gloves, and with much more con­tact than is war­rant­ed), as well as how, every time we turn around a researcher says, “I have anoth­er doc­u­ment.” How­ev­er, real­is­ti­cal­ly, none of these doc­u­ments is being seri­ous­ly dam­aged, and as for the sud­de­ness of the dis­cov­er­ies, this is tele­vi­sion. In order to keep audi­ences inter­est­ed, there must be quick results. There are few­er than 45 min­utes avail­able to com­plete the show. But I still think that a sim­ple title card at the end could give a sense of the amount of research required to pro­duce the show.

I was glad to see J. Mark Lowe fea­tured as one of the researchers. He is a well-known pro­fes­sion­al geneal­o­gist and lec­tur­er, who lives in what we call “West­ern North Car­oli­na,” but which a lot of oth­er folks now call Ten­nessee.… He’s a friend of mine, a top-notch researcher, and an amaz­ing racon­teur. Hope­ful­ly, Mr. Richey got some time to chat with Mark with the cam­eras and time pres­sure off.

Until the 18th of Sep­tem­ber 2011, the show is avail­able in its entire­ty on the NBC web­site. I have also embed­ded it below.

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iPad 2 Run Down

Geneal­o­gy Apps for the iPad

Apple intro­duced the iPad 2 yes­ter­day.

This is about 9 months since the first iPad was released. The device has sold 15 mil­lion units. Accord­ing to some ana­lysts, this makes it the fastest sell­ing con­sumer tech­nol­o­gy prod­uct ever.

I have to admit that I did not think the iPad would catch on. It seemed a lit­tle heavy in the hand, and was rumored to run hot. I fig­ured that this prod­uct was over priced, at $499 for an 8GB WiFi mod­el and $829 for a 64GB WiFi / 3G mod­el. While the usabil­i­ty fea­tures, such as “instant on,” would make it easy to use it was real­ly just, as one com­men­ta­tor said, “An iPhone for Hagar the Hor­ri­ble.” It seems a device for con­tent con­sump­tion, not con­tent cre­ation. I’m also sim­ply a con­trar­i­an, and nev­er both­ered to get an iPhone. I have an Android, and pri­or to that had smart­phones from Palm and Hand­spring since, oh, about 2001.…

In the last nine months, tens of thou­sands of apps were deliv­ered. $2 bil­lion dol­lars has been paid out to the soft­ware devel­op­ers of those apps. While many of the apps are con­tent cre­ation apps, most are con­tent con­sump­tion apps. But of course, we do an awful lot of that on the web any­way.

The new iPad sports both front- and rear-fac­ing cam­eras, with the rear cam­era cap­tur­ing 720p video. It’s 13 lighter, 2x as fast, and with 9x the video pro­cess­ing pow­er. I look at those specs, and, see­ing a lighter unit, with this many apps, and this kind of per­for­mance, and I myself am tempt­ed. Not only could this be a light­weight way to trav­el, it looks like a lot of fun, and the apps keep com­ing.…

The iPad 2 is offi­cial­ly avail­able next Fri­day, 11 March 2011, at Apple Stores and on the web at The new iPad sup­ports Ver­i­zon as well as AT&T 3G net­works.

Here’s a com­par­i­son of the specs, with specs that are either iPad 1 spe­cif­ic or iPad 1-only (as found on the Way­back Machine) with iPad 2 specs high­light­ed.

9.56 inch­es (242.8 mm)
9.50 inch­es (241.2 mm)
7.47 inch­es (189.7 mm)
7.31 inch­es (185.7 mm)
0.5 inch (13.4 mm)
0.34 inch (8.8 mm)
1.5 pounds (0.68 kg) Wi-Fi mod­el
1.33 pounds (601 g)
1.6 pounds (0.73 kg) Wi-Fi + 3G mod­el
1.35 pounds (607 g)
9.7-inch (diag­o­nal) LED-back­lit glossy widescreen Mul­ti-Touch dis­play with IPS tech­nol­o­gy
1024-by-768-pix­el res­o­lu­tion at 132 pix­els per inch (ppi)
Fin­ger­print-resis­tant oleo­pho­bic coat­ing
Sup­port for dis­play of mul­ti­ple lan­guages and char­ac­ters simul­ta­ne­ous­ly
16GB, 32GB, or 64GB flash dri­ve
1GHz Apple A4 cus­tom-designed, high-per­for­mance, low-pow­er sys­tem-on-a-chip
1GHz dual-core Apple A5 cus­tom-designed, high-per­for­mance, low-pow­er sys­tem-on-a-chip
Three-axis gyro
Ambi­ent light sen­sor
Audio play­back
Fre­quen­cy response: 20Hz to 20,000Hz
Audio for­mats sup­port­ed: HE-AAC (V1), AAC (16 [iPad 2: 8] to 320 Kbps), Pro­tect­ed AAC (from iTunes Store), MP3 (16 to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Audi­ble (for­mats 2, 3, and 4, [iPad 2: Audi­ble Enhanced Audio, AAX, and AAX+] Apple Loss­less, AIFF, and WAV
User-con­fig­urable max­i­mum vol­ume lim­it
Dol­by Dig­i­tal 5.1 sur­round sound pass-through with Apple Dig­i­tal AV Adapter (sold sep­a­rate­ly)
Cam­eras, Pho­tos, and Video Record­ing
Back cam­era: Video record­ing, HD (720p) up to 30 frames per sec­ond with audio; still cam­era with 5x dig­i­tal zoom
Front cam­era: Video record­ing, VGA up to 30 frames per sec­ond with audio; VGA-qual­i­ty still cam­era
Tap to con­trol expo­sure for video or stills
Pho­to and video geo­t­ag­ging over Wi-Fi
TV and video
Sup­port for 1024 by 768 pix­els with Dock Con­nec­tor to VGA Adapter; 576p and 480p with Apple Com­po­nent AV Cable; 576i and 480i with Apple Com­pos­ite AV Cable
H.264 video up to 720p, 30 frames per sec­ond, Main Pro­file lev­el 3.1 with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file for­mats; MPEG-4 video, up to 2.5 Mbps, 640 by 480 pix­els, 30 frames per sec­ond, Sim­ple Pro­file with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file for­mats; Motion JPEG (M-JPEG) up to 35 Mbps, 1280 by 720 pix­els, 30 frames per sec­ond, audio in ulaw, PCM stereo audio in .avi file for­mat
Video mir­ror­ing and video out sup­port: Up to 1080p with Apple Dig­i­tal AV Adapter or Apple VGA Adapter (cables sold sep­a­rate­ly)
Video out sup­port at 576p and 480p with Apple Com­po­nent AV Cable; 576i and 480i with Apple Com­pos­ite AV Cable
Video for­mats sup­port­ed: H.264 video up to 720p, 30 frames per sec­ond, Main Pro­file lev­el 3.1 with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file for­mats; MPEG-4 video, up to 2.5 Mbps, 640 by 480 pix­els, 30 frames per sec­ond, Sim­ple Pro­file with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps per chan­nel, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file for­mats; Motion JPEG (M-JPEG) up to 35 Mbps, 1280 by 720 pix­els, 30 frames per sec­ond, audio in ulaw, PCM stereo audio in .avi file for­mat
Bat­tery and pow­er
Built-in 25-watt-hour recharge­able lithi­um-poly­mer bat­tery
Up to 10 hours of surf­ing the web on Wi-Fi, watch­ing video, or lis­ten­ing to music
Up to 9 hours of surf­ing the web using 3G data net­work
Charg­ing via pow­er adapter or USB to com­put­er sys­tem
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RootsTech 2011: The Changing Face of Genealogy

The fol­low­ing is a video of Curt Witcher’s keynote address from Root­sTech 2011: “The Chang­ing Face of Geneal­o­gy: Curt Witch­er, Allen Coun­ty Pub­lic Library.” Thanks to Geni­aus and Randy Seaver of Genea-Mus­ings for point­ing this out.

On a per­son­al note, it’s been a dif­fi­cult day, what with fail­ures at Net­work Solu­tions tak­ing down this blog, as well as my wife’s cro­chet blog (, and 6 oth­er web­sites I man­age. At first, the issue was a data­base sync-ing issue. When I called them to work on that, at about 1:00 a.m. last night, they oblig­ed by remov­ing all the files under /htdocs. The files, as well as the data­bas­es were up by about 4 p.m., mean­ing that it was only (!) about 15 hours of down­time, but I noticed that some of the more recent uploads to a cou­ple of the sites were not in evi­dence; I had to upload files again. So, they restored the site from back­ups.…

Ama­zon EC2, here I come!

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WDYTYA Episode 204: Kim Cattrall

I have been trav­el­ing, and only today got a chance to see the Kim Cat­trall episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, or at least the last 45 min­utes of it.

In this episode, Ms. Cat­trall, with the help of geneal­o­gists in the Unit­ed King­dom, runs down her miss­ing grand­fa­ther. He had aban­doned her grand­moth­er, moth­er, and two aunts some 70 years ago.

If any­thing the shows are get­ting more and more engag­ing. This episode was less about the doc­u­ments and more about what must have been going on in the star’s bigamist grandfather’s head.

You can see why the show has been renewed for anoth­er sea­son. This is engag­ing tele­vi­sion. While, as a geneal­o­gist, I could quib­ble that most sto­ries are not this heart-wrench­ing, nor do they involve this much decep­tion, I sim­ply can­not deny that this is pop­corn-munch­ing enter­tain­ment, designed to keep peo­ple com­ing back for more.

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Ancestry Increases Subscriber Base by 31%

Now that Inc. is a pub­lic com­pa­ny (ACOM: Google Finance), they are required to divulge more infor­ma­tion about their per­for­mance than they did as a pri­vate ven­ture.

For them, the news is good. Ear­li­er this week, they announced their year 2010 fig­ures, which includ­ed notably sub­scriber growth of 31% year-over-year and a 34% increase in rev­enue year-over-year. (At the end of Decem­ber there were 1,395,000 paid sub­scribers of Total rev­enue for the year was $300.9 mil­lion. EBITDA (earn­ings before income tax, depre­ci­a­tion, and amor­ti­za­tion) was $101 mil­lion.

Month­ly churn (mem­ber­ship turnover) is 3.9%, which is basi­cal­ly equiv­a­lent to the 3.6% in the fourth quar­ter of 2009, and the 4.0% in the third quar­ter of 2010.

For 2011, Ances­try expects to have 1,700,000 t0 1,725,000 sub­scribers and bring in rev­enues of $370 — $375 mil­lion, lead­ing to an EBITDA of $125 — $130 mil­lion.

These are very healthy num­bers and bode well for the geneal­o­gy indus­try. While a lot of us have some qualms about the size of Ances­try, as well as some of its busi­ness prac­tices, it’s still impor­tant that this major play­er is healthy and con­tin­u­ing to invest in dig­i­ti­za­tion and tech­nol­o­gy.


Black History Month at FamilySearch

Fam­il­y­Search made the fol­low­ing announce­ment on Mon­day:

Salt Lake City—This month, mil­lions of indi­vid­u­als of African descent are cel­e­brat­ing Black His­to­ry Month by explor­ing their fam­i­ly his­to­ry roots. In the U.S., Fam­il­y­Search vol­un­teers have been busy help­ing dig­i­tize his­toric doc­u­ments and cre­ate free, search­able index­es to them online. Through­out Africa, from Accra to Zim­bab­we, where irre­place­able fam­i­ly infor­ma­tion and tra­di­tions are at risk of being lost due to neglect, war, and dete­ri­o­ra­tion, Fam­il­y­Search vol­un­teers are also help­ing pre­serve this valu­able his­to­ry so Africans can con­nect with their roots. Researchers can search the mil­lions of African-relat­ed records as they are pub­lished online at

They con­clude their announce­ment with the fol­low­ing:

Many of the records col­lect­ed by Fam­il­y­Search are now avail­able for free on More African records will be post­ed on the site in the com­ing months. Fol­low­ing are a few sam­ples of some types of records at that may be of inter­est to those doing African or African-Amer­i­can research. Many of them are works in progress.

    • Vir­ginia, Freedmen’s Bureau Let­ters, 1865–1872
    • U.S. Arkansas Con­fed­er­ate Pen­sions, 1901 to 1929
    • Ghana 1982–1984 Cen­sus
    • South Africa, Orange Free State, Estate Files, 1951–1973
    • U.S. South­ern States Births, Mar­riages, and Deaths
    • U.S. Nat­u­ral­iza­tion Peti­tions

This is tremen­dous amount of mate­r­i­al being made avail­able. Their blog entry about this release says that the Vir­ginia Freedmen’s Bureau records total more than 1 mil­lion records. It’s an impor­tant deliv­ery of doc­u­ments, and will pro­vide a great deal of help for African-Amer­i­can researchers.

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Keeping Your Computer Up-to-Date


The com­put­er is one of our most impor­tant genealog­i­cal tools.

Many of us remem­ber when this was not the case. I have my fair share of mimeo­graphed fam­i­ly group sheets filled out in fad­ing pen­cil wait­ing in a stack to be scanned. But today, with your research find­ings stored in a dig­i­tal data­base and your research con­sist­ing of a blend of pay and free web­sites, with the local and state repos­i­to­ries you want to vis­it tagged in a Google Map, and with your lat­est pho­tos of grave­stones shared on Flickr and Find­A­Grave, you need a com­put­er and you need it to work.

Whether you have a Mac or a Win­dows machine, the key to keep­ing your sys­tem work­ing is main­te­nance. Just like with a car, you should have a sched­ule for main­tain­ing your com­put­er. With a car, every 3,000 or 5,000 miles, you need to change the oil; peri­od­i­cal­ly, you need to rotate the tires. It helps to check the air pres­sure, air fil­ters, and oil lev­el from time to time. There is a sim­i­lar reg­i­men you should fol­low to keep your com­put­er run­ning smooth­ly, so you can focus on your research and not on recov­er­ing from a cat­a­stroph­ic com­put­er issue.

Virus Checking

Those of us who use Macs often come off as smug about the lack of a need for virus check­ing soft­ware. This impli­ca­tion is that the supe­ri­or design of the Mac­in­tosh wards off all threats. (We can be such pains!) Of course, the Mac­in­tosh is just as vul­ner­a­ble as any oth­er oper­at­ing sys­tem. Since OS X has been released, not as many virus­es writ­ten for the Mac, but it takes only one virus to endan­ger your data or your pri­va­cy. So, while Macs are less like­ly to get virus­es, the Mac OS is not with­out its vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties. Addi­tion­al­ly, with cross-plat­form files (such as Microsoft Word files) can arrive with a virus and be sent on with that same virus, whether or not the virus infects your machine.

In addi­tion to virus­es, it is impor­tant to under­stand that there are spy­ware appli­ca­tions that are designed to gath­er data about you and your online iden­ti­ty. These often run based on your brows­er, and are there­fore often plat­form inde­pen­dent. So, no mat­ter what kind of com­put­er your have, you should have anti-virus and anti-spy­ware soft­ware, and keep the virus and spy­ware def­i­n­i­tions up-to-date.

For both the Mac and the PC, the two main­stays of the secu­ri­ty mar­ket, Nor­ton ( and McAfee ( offer a suite of prod­ucts that pro­vide pro­tec­tion against virus­es, adware, spy­ware, and a vari­ety of oth­er online threats. The biggest hur­dle for me in using virus pro­tec­tion like the pro­grams sold by McAfee and Nor­ton is hat they some­times take over your com­put­er when you are not expect­ing it to do so. For the Mac, there is also ClamX­av (, a free open-source virus pro­tec­tion soft­ware pack­age. While ClamX­av is free, it does not proac­tive­ly scan new or changed files; you have to remem­ber to run it. There­fore, you get less pro­tec­tion, but also more con­trol over what your com­put­er is doing at any giv­en moment.

Virus and mal­ware pro­tec­tion fall in the cat­e­go­ry of adap­tive main­te­nance. They are ways of adapt­ing to changes in the envi­ron­ment.

System Security Updates

Both the PC in Win­dows Vista and Win­dows 7 and the Mac in OS X pro­vide peri­od­ic updates to the sys­tem soft­ware. Some of these are option­al. They might be updat­ing a com­po­nent of the oper­at­ing sys­tem that you do not use, for exam­ple. But, often the updates will be issues to close up secu­ri­ty holes in the oper­at­ing sys­tem. This is known as “adap­tive main­te­nance.” The When­ev­er you receive a secu­ri­ty-relat­ed upgrade for your oper­at­ing sys­tem, you should allow it to install. The soft­ware ven­dors will usu­al­ly not announce secu­ri­ty issues with their soft­ware until a fix is avail­able, so you will prob­a­bly not even know there is a prob­lem. How­ev­er, those who would like to exploit secu­ri­ty issues with the oper­at­ing sys­tem are con­stant­ly on the look­out for these issues, so you should let the experts at Microsoft and Apple give you the ben­e­fit of their attempts to keep you and your genealog­i­cal data safe.

Secu­ri­ty issues are often also dis­cov­ered with desk­top appli­ca­tion, espe­cial­ly Adobe Acro­bat and the var­i­ous browsers, Inter­net Explor­er, Fire­fox, Chrome, and Safari. Be aware of how your soft­ware ven­dor will make updates avail­able. Some updates, such as sys­tem updates for Win­dows or the Mac OS and many appli­ca­tions will be deliv­ered to your sys­tem auto­mat­i­cal­ly, when­ev­er it is con­nect­ed to the Inter­net and there has been a patch released.

In gen­er­al, you should install these sys­tem and appli­ca­tion updates as soon as it is fea­si­ble to do so. If you have any con­cern with whether the updates you are receiv­ing are autho­rized by and deliv­ered from the ven­dor, go to the sup­port or down­loads area of their web­site to ver­i­fy that the change is valid, and learn what defect or vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty the change is intend­ed to address.

Simply Staying Current

You have invest­ed mon­ey in the soft­ware you use every day. More impor­tant­ly, you have invest­ed time in it. You have spent time learn­ing how to use it, fig­ur­ing out its fea­tures and foibles. Any soft­ware that you use a lot for your geneal­o­gy research, whether as a data­base for your records, or as a way to write or share your find­ings, should be pro­tect­ed in anoth­er way. It should be kept rea­son­ably cur­rent. This does not mean that you need to be as assid­u­ous as you should be with installing OS secu­ri­ty patch­es. How­ev­er, you should not be more than two major releas­es behind the released prod­uct. In oth­er words, if the prod­uct is on ver­sion 7, you should be run­ning at least ver­sion 5. This is a gen­er­al rule of thumb, and may vary depend­ing on how much the ven­dor has changed its prod­uct.

There are a cou­ple of pow­er­ful web­sites and desk­top appli­ca­tions that can help you keep on top of keep­ing your appli­ca­tions cur­rent. For both the Win­dows OS and the Mac OS, there is CNet’s Tech­Track­er (for­mer­ly Ver­sion­Track­er), with both free and sub­scrip­tion ser­vices ( For the Mac OS, there is a handy desk­top soft­ware pack­age, AppFresh ( which uses the web­site to keep track of changes to appli­ca­tions, wid­gets, pref­er­ence panes and appli­ca­tion plug-ins. In addi­tion to check­ing for new ver­sions of all the appli­ca­tions sub­mit­ted to, AppFresh also keeps track of Apple and Microsoft Updates (and soon, Adobe updates), to help you keep your sys­tem cur­rent with the lat­est releas­es of the soft­ware you use on a reg­u­lar basis. The tool also allows for Sparkle updates, which are built into many Mac OS prod­ucts to auto­mat­i­cal­ly keep an installed prod­uct aware of updates.

Regular Maintenance

With your com­put­er oper­at­ing sys­tem and the appli­ca­tions you run on it safe, you can focus the bulk of your ener­gy on the search for and analy­sis of genealog­i­cal data. After all, your com­put­er is sim­ply a tool for your research, for find­ing, gath­er­ing, arrang­ing, and stor­ing your genealog­i­cal find­ings. You are doing the key intel­lec­tu­al work of assess­ing sources, think­ing through unique ways to find your way past “brick­wall” prob­lems. It would be a shame if this work were lost because of a virus or a secu­ri­ty hole. More com­mon­ly, sim­ply by neglect of a stan­dard process, your sys­tem may degrade in its per­for­mance, and you will lose the ben­e­fit it can pro­vide you and get drawn into many hours of main­te­nance and repairs, of try­ing to reassem­ble the con­tent you have brought togeth­er. We all know, and I have talked about in this col­umn, the need for back­ups. In addi­tion to back­ing up your sys­tem, you should also main­tain what you have.
An ear­li­er ver­sion of this arti­cle appeared in the Nation­al Genealog­i­cal Soci­ety Mag­a­zine. Used  by per­mis­sion.
Categories Uncategorized

Pam Slaton: “Searching for …”

Pam Slaton, host of "Searching for ..."
Pam Sla­ton

Update: 9 March 2011

I am not Pam Sla­ton, and do not even know her. A lot of folks are post­ing here think­ing they are con­tact­ing Pam, but, unfor­tu­nate­ly, they are not. I wish I could pass infor­ma­tion on to her, but I am not in touch with her.

This was news to me: Oprah Winfrey’s OWN tele­vi­sion net­work has a show that fol­lows a pro­fes­sion­al geneal­o­gist. The show, enti­tled “Search­ing for …” runs Mon­day nights at 98 Cen­tral. Pam Sla­ton, the geneal­o­gist the show focused on helps reunite the adopt­ed with their birth fam­i­lies, and oth­er fam­i­ly mem­bers with one anoth­er after they have been sep­a­rat­ed for some time and lost touch with one anoth­er.

On the OWN site, they write:

Search­ing For… is a doc­u­men­tary series that fol­lows the real-life work of Pam Sla­ton, a pro­fes­sion­al inves­tiga­tive geneal­o­gist, stay-at-home mom and New Jer­sey house­wife.

View­ers can expect an intense­ly per­son­al ride when cam­eras fol­low Pam and her clients through each step as they track down lost loved ones. Each searcher’s sto­ry is dif­fer­ent, and the results are unpre­dictable and emo­tion­al­ly charged. Whether Pam’s clients find a joy­ous reunion, painful rejec­tion or trag­ic loss, they all walk away with the clo­sure they were des­per­ate to find.

Pam Slaton’s career as a pro­fes­sion­al inves­tiga­tive geneal­o­gist began near­ly 20 years ago. Want­i­ng to find her own birth moth­er, Pam hired to a pro­fes­sion­al searcher. The expe­ri­ence was the most dev­as­tat­ing of her life, and Pam vowed that no one else should have to go through what she did. She keeps her own pain in mind when help­ing clients on their jour­neys. And her results are astound­ing! Pam has an 85 per­cent suc­cess rate, fol­lows a strict “no find, no pay” pol­i­cy, and is one of the most sought-after pro­fes­sion­al searchers in the coun­try.”

I will have to take a look.

One of the key aspects of geneal­o­gy shows, which this one looks to have in spades, is an emo­tion­al com­po­nent that most non-geneal­o­gists seem to not expect. With a focus on re-unit­ing liv­ing peo­ple, Pam Slaton’s niche in geneal­o­gy seems to be focused direct­ly on emo­tion­al con­tent which should dri­ve the show. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I don’t know how many peo­ple know about this show.