General Genealogy

Grace Foutz Feature Frames Life in Ohio


Sherman, Grace, and Rebecca Foutz; Rachel Caldwell 1910

About 1910, clockwise from left, Sherman Foutz, his daughter Grace Foutz, his mother Rebecca Foutz and his grandmother Rachel Caldwell pose in happier times.

Grace Foutz Chaney’s Happy, Distant Life

In this ongoing series, we’re taking a crack at solving some of the mysteries surrounding the family of Sherman Foutz, my great-grandfather Vance Foutz’s oldest brother.

A recent research binge on newspaperarchives.com blew open a couple doors I thought, given Pennsylvania’s reputation for white-knuckle-gripping its vital records, would probably stay shut fast.

An illuminating source, as ever, are the obituaries of relatives past. And just in case information is incomplete (or wrong) in the final record of our dearly departed — as was the case in Sherman Foutz’s 1915 obituary, the one clipped and saved for 100 years — it always pays to check the initial “extra” to readers of the day or so before — the death announcement.

If I could offer one genealogy lesson — though stories are the point of this blog — it’s that starting from the end of a life often yields the richest clues to an ancestor’s entire life. Obituaries done right, at least the way I was taught as a cub reporter at the Sandusky Register (egad, a decade and a half ago), serve up all the pertinent birth, marriage and death dates; spouses, children, parents, siblings, (living and dead); occupations, places lived, war record; and all the various memberships and associations that make up a life in brief.

A treasure trove, if you can get at it. And hoping, of course, the newspaper chronicling the lives of your loved ones hasn’t adopted the same abbreviated style as, say, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which hadn’t changed its basic name, died, funeral date and place format in the 98 years between my great-great grandfather Morgan’s death in 1897 and the death of his granddaughter in 1995.

But here I go burying the lead.

Fewer links ahead, promise, and a thorough peek into the life of Sherman’s daughter, Grace Foutz Chaney.

A Return Home to Ohio

The central tragedy for Sherman Foutz’s family was his early death, at 47, of tuberculosis in 1915. Following that, the first of our Foutzes to leave the farm in Harrison County, Ohio, attend college and work in the big cities of Washington D.C. and Reading and Harrisburg, Pa., essentially split up.

Eldest daughter Grace marries that December in a West Virginia county neighboring the one a lot of our other relatives seemed to elope to (probably a story in itself). She lives the rest of her life not with her mother, Elizabeth Foutz, or step-sister Catherine, back in Harrisburg, but with husband Fred Chaney in Uhrichsville, where she works as a school teacher.

They never have children. They never leave Uhrichsville. And they have an odd propensity for consistently lying about their ages. In fact, Grace’s gravestone is off by the same incorrect six years as most of the censuses, which made her, for a time, the same age as the six-years-younger Fred, and which was maybe their point in fibbing.

But never fear: Grace’s 1970 obituary finally gets her age right, and spills the details about a lot of her life. We learn Fred precedes her in death by 15 years. Older brother Oscar is also listed as deceased. Then there are the tantalizing hints of “several nieces and nephews” and that foster sister, Catherine Rutt, whom we haven’t found out a lot about yet.

The obit offered a lot of details. But at the time I discovered it among my great-grandfather’s things a few summers back, the usual parade of questions marched along:

  1. When did brother Oscar Foutz die? Preceded could mean a couple years earlier, or as far back as the 1910s, when he suddenly stops being counted among his mother’s residence, where one son, Ralph, resides. The other, Harry Sherman, as well as Oscar’s wife, Florence Hartman Foutz, are also lost to history (But more on them soon.)
  2. Why did Grace marry an Ohio man just eight months after her father’s death? Where and how did they meet?
  3. Why did Grace suddenly and emphatically live so far removed from her widowed mother, young foster sister and the remnants of her brother’s family in Pennsylvania?
  4. And, living as she did just a dozen miles south of her extended family (my own) in Dover, Ohio, did she maintain connections with the greater Foutz clan?

On this last point, the written record seems to suggest Grace knew about Vance Foutz’s family in Dover and kept up with my great-grandfather, her uncle in family relation, but really just three years her senior and one year Oscar’s, an accident of the 20-year span between bookend brothers Sherman and Vance. In fact, when preteen Vance, Oscar and Grace lived together in Washington D.C. about 1900 (family lore has recorded that Sherman got his youngest brothers John, Charley and Vance jobs in the postal department), they were likely more playmates than proper uncle and nephew and niece. That Vance’s and Grace’s birthdays were also close together (hers, Sept. 5, 1890; his, Sept. 7, 1887) could also have been a fun circumstantial bond.

A few years after Grace died, later in the 1970s, Vance’s daughter-in-law, my great-aunt Louise Foutz, was trying to piece together family history with my grandparents and great-aunt Doris Foutz Waddington. Louise counted, among her father’s known siblings, a brother, Charles, and at least two sisters — Mrs. Sam Hathaway, of Bowerston, and Mrs. Thomas Moreland, of Carrollton. …:

Also a brother Sherman that we know little about, and possibly another sister (Louise wrote). … I went to Pop’s sister’s funeral when I was pregnant with Donna. A Frank Coleman used to visit often, and a niece that lived in Urichsville (sic.), and some red-haired nephews from Canton. Neither Doris or I remember names.

The red-haired nephews likely belonged to Charles Foutz, who died of pneumonia in 1918 at age 32, leaving a wife and four children behind. (More on them soon!) The niece is most likely Grace. An examination of great-grandpa Vance’s funeral guest register shows the shaky hand of 78-year-old Grace Chaney as present.

Pity, then, that no one from my grandparents’ generation remembers Sherman’s dynamic daughter. Fortunately, a newspaper article from the same Times-Reporter, a year before her death, tells more of Grace’s story.

Devoted teacher, never tested for teaching license

A January 25, 1969 feature entitled “Wonderful Life…” details Grace Foutz Chaney’s childhood and education, her marriage to Fred, her teaching career and the ways she lived out her days in Uhrichsville.

Read the whole article by clicking the thumbnail below.

Chaney Grace Foutz wonderful life Daily Reporter 25 Jan 1969

Grace Foutz Chaney’s life is detailed in a January 1969 Times-Reporter article.

Some highlights:

  • Born in Bowerston, by the first grade Grace Foutz attended school in Washington D.C., “where her father was connected with the printing department of the federal government.”
  • After the family’s move to Reading, Pa., she attended private girls’ school and, like her father, became active in the Knights of the Maccabees.
  • At 15, having just completed 8th grade, she took a “sub-Freshman” test and was granted admission to Irving College.
  • Though Grace never properly graduated high school, she spent 5 years at Irving, graduating with a “bachelor of science degree for teaching, Latin, English and problems in democracy.” She was also granted a teaching license in Pennsylvania.
  • Grace was granted a teaching certificate in Ohio (as well as 2 lifetime certificates for teaching grade and high schools) and taught for 40 years in Dennison, Tuscarawas, Harrison County, Conesville and Feed Springs. She never served as a substitute, only taught full-time.

The article also details some family highlights, even if the facts seem dubious or outright incorrect.

On brother Oscar, the article reports him as having died in 1945. An interesting — though perhaps false — match to mother Elizabeth’s death year.

As to husband Fred Chaney, the article reports Grace met him when she returned to Ohio for her grandmother’s funeral “in May 1916.” The death of Rebecca Foutz may, indeed, have been the occasion Grace and Fred met, but sources tell us Rebecca died in May 1915, same year as Sherman, and same year as Fred and Grace’s marriage that December.

The article shares Fred’s occupation as railroad conductor, and gets his death right, in September 1955 (coincidentally, on Vance’s birthday). And shares the location of their first shared, and later, Grace’s solitary residence in the Nicola Building at 3rd and Water streets.

Grace’s wonderful life, though illuminated in interesting ways, still is in many ways a mystery. But with some of the clues revealed there, we fill in a few more blanks. More answers to come.

nicola bldg 101 e third st uhrichsville oh

Grace Foutz Chaney made her home in the Nicola Building in Uhrichsville for more than 30 years.

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Categories: Foutz, General Genealogy, newsletter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Did Oscar Foutz Outlive His Father?


Foutz Sherman S

Sherman S. Foutz, oldest brother to Colt’s great-grandfather, Vance Foutz.

Surviving Foutz Son Lost to History

Genealogy — thorough, mystery-revealing genealogy, anyway — never unfolds in a straight chronology.

Our look into the latest revelations of the lives of my great-great uncle Sherman Foutz’s family continues this week with a bit of family history time travel. His elusive son Oscar Foutz is today’s focus.

Like life, in which we age in a progression of days and weeks and years, but bounce back and forth in our memories, the time-travel leaps of an active, living mind, genealogy doesn’t reveal its deeper secrets by merely starting at birth and ticking off milestones until death, burial, fill-in-the-blank on the tree.

You often have to start at the end of a life to understand the relative you’re researching, the places they’ve lived, the things they’ve done, the people they’ve loved. Obituaries are — usually — rich troves of the essentials you need to merely confirm that who you’re trying to get to know is, in fact, the family member you’re looking for: birth date, parents, hometown, occupation, spouse, surviving children and siblings, those who preceded them in death.

Filling in the blanks, and ticking off those necessary confirmations, means flipping back and forward through multiple sources to reveal a life lived long after it has ended: birth certificates, census records, draft cards, marriage certificates, gravestones, newspaper clippings.

Often, if you can’t start at the end of a life, you lose the threads which connect you, through history, to its beginning, not to mention its meaningful middle.

For a long time, I’d assumed Oscar Foutz, nephew of my great-grandfather Vance Foutz, had died even before his father, Sherman, succumbed to tuberculosis in 1915 at a too-young 47.

The main reason? Sherman’s yellowed obituary from that April, which my great-grandfather still possessed when he died some 53 years later, lists only his wife and daughter, Grace, as survivors.

Sherman Foutz obit

Whereabouts of Wife and Sons Murky

Adding to Oscar’s challenge as genealogical cipher, are the odd notations in censuses — and his eventual, utter absence from these records.

Jump back 5 years from Sherman’s death. The 1910 census spotlights the family in its Harrisburg prominence.

Living at 1908 N. Third St., the household is headed by a 23-years-married Sherman and wife Elizabeth. Oscar, 21, has worked the entire year as a railroad fireman. Grace, 19, is out of school, but not employed.

And there, a bit of the cryptic: A 1-year-old grandson, Ralph, is also among the household. And Oscar is listed as married two years. But his wife is not living with the Sherman Foutz family.

At first, this led me to wonder if Ralph’s mother — Oscar’s wife — may have died young, perhaps in childbirth. Though, if that were the case, why would Oscar be listed as married two years and not widowed?

Over the last few years, I filled in some of the gaps, discovering Oscar’s marriage to Florence Hartman in September 1908 (after applying for marriage Jan. 1 that year — Ralph was born Dec. 19); discovering the birth of a second son, Harry Sherman, in March 1910; Florence’s visiting Oscar at a National Guard camp in July 1911.

But if finding Florence missing from Oscar and Ralph’s home two years into marriage is puzzling in 1910, by 1920 both parents — and Harry Sherman, for that matter — have vanished from the usually helpful census map.

Son Oscar a Solider, then a Ghost

Skipping five years after Sherman’s death, the 1920 census finds 11-year-old Ralph Foutz living in the care of his grandmother, Sherman’s widow, Elizabeth.

A foster daughter, 14-year-old Catherine, is also listed, and Grace is listed, but then crossed out. Further research turned up Grace’s marriage 8 months after Sherman’s death to Fred Chaney, in what looks like a West Virginia elopement since no family is listed. The couple turn up in Uhrichsville, Ohio, near Sherman and Elizabeth’s birthplace, in the 1920 census. So why is Grace mistakenly entered (and first reported) in the Harrisburg household?

More and more curious.

The family by 1920 has changed addresses, living now at 59 North Tenth St., where they host two boarders and Elizabeth works as a cook for the Elks Home. Harry Sherman is not listed; nor is Oscar; nor is Florence.

What happened to Ralph’s family? With Sherman’s death such a tragic, distracting shadow in my research, I wondered if a September 1910 Gettysburg Times articleindicated trouble for the family.

The article reported that Oscar W. Foutz, of Harrisburg, after receiving his pay as a soldier in the National Guard, went to Allentown with three other men for a night on the town. While making the rounds, a man named William Croghan crossed their paths, was hit with a club and relieved of his valuables. One of the men in Oscar’s party plead guilty and was sentenced to 2 years. Oscar also confessed and got nine months in prison.

Now, Florence would visit him in National Guard camp the next year, indicating, it seems, Oscar’s reinstatement and the family’s continued unity. Though where was she in 1920? Where was son Harry Sherman? And what became of Oscar Foutz?

Did Oscar succumb to tuberculosis like his father? One of Sherman’s (and my great-grandfather Vance’s) nephews, Karl Coleman, also dies of tuberculosis a month prior to Sherman back in Ohio (in the home of Vance). Did Florence and the baby die of it as well?

Reading tea leaves, 100 years distant, is an imprecise business. Death, an easy explanation, can distract. And incomplete records fail to illuminate, and instead lead astray.

In my research this winter, suddenly, an open door. Oscar lived.

Obituaries are often preceded by shorter death announcements. The same was true of Sherman Foutz’s death, only recently discovered. As reported in the Tuesday, April 6, 1915 edition of the Harrisburg Times, Oscar is not only listed as a survivor, but living, by then in Arizona!

What do we know of Oscar — and the rest of Sherman Foutz’s family and descendants — in the years that follow? More to come….

Foutz Sherman S death announce Harrisburg Telegraph April 1915

Son Oscar Foutz is listed as a survivor — and living in Arizona — in Sherman Foutz’s 1915 death announcement.

Categories: Foutz, General Genealogy, newsletter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

In Good Countenance #9 – Ralph Foutz


Foutz Ralph Virginia

Virginia (Henson) Foutz and Ralph Francis Foutz, in an undated photo.

Ralph & Virginia Foutz | Deepening the Sherman Foutz Connection

Enough digital ink has been spilled in this blog on Sherman S. Foutz, oldest brother to my great-grandfather Vance Cleveland Foutz, that I’ll spare you the extended recap and cut to the news at hand.

The last breakthrough I blogged about was the discovery, through Pennsylvania church records on Ancestry.com, of baptismal logs listing Ralph Francis Foutz and Harry Sherman Foutz as sons to Oscar W. Foutz and Florence Hartman Foutz.

Those documents firmed up a lot of information, including:

  • reaffirming Oscar and Florence as a couple and parents
  • confirming their residency in Reading, Pa. in the first decade of the 20th century
  • confirming their church affiliation, like most Foutzes, as Lutheran
  • confirming birth dates for Ralph and Harry
  • revealing the young couple had a second son, Harry, a problematic revelation, since neither he, nor parents Oscar and Florence, appear in any records I’ve uncovered since the time of patriarch Sherman Foutz’s death from tuberculosis in 1915

That was always the core mystery behind these Foutzes. Sherman was beloved as first-born, prominent, successful son of Jonathan and Rebecca Foutz, and certainly admired by his youngest sibling, my great-grandfather Vance, as evidenced by the clippings and photos that remained in his possession and were eventually passed down to my father, Fred. But his early death seemed to cut off the rest of that family from my own.

Oh, it seemed as if Sherman’s daughter, Grace, would show up from time to time, as evidenced by my great-aunt Doris (Foutz) Waddington’s memories, and Grace’s surprising signature in Vance’s 1968 funeral registry (Grace herself was just two years from death). But Grace (Foutz) Chaney died childless. Her 1970 obituary mentions a foster-sister, Catherine Rutt, of Lititz, Pa., and several nieces and nephews — what became of them? What became of her brother, Oscar, who isn’t mentioned in her 1970 obituary, and his own children and descendants?

Tracking Down Ralph Foutz

The pieces started to fill in, where Ralph Foutz is concerned, in connections I made through several Harrisburg, Pa. city directory entries of the 1930s and 1940s. Same name, same city as where he grew up in the care of grandma Lizzie Foutz (Sherman’s wife), according to the 1910 and 1920 censuses. Seems a likely connection.

Next, the 1987 Harrisburg Patriot-News obituary for Virginia Henson Foutz names Ralph F. Foutz as her husband, preceding her in death. The obit mentions Virginia as retired from the L. Wohl Children’s Dress Factory. In Lizzie Foutz’s 1930 census entry, foster daughter Catherine is listed as a dress-stitcher. Same employer? Again, a possible connection.

Through the website FindAGrave.com — ridiculously named, but deeper and deeper by day in its breadth: I cannot overstate how helpful this is as a primary source — I located entries for Ralph and Virginia Foutz in Woodlawn Memorial Gardens (named in Virginia’s obit) in Dauphin County. I submitted a photo request — another helpful feature of FindAGrave — and a man named Karl Fox was kind enough to photograph these relatives’ final resting places. From those photos, I could confirm birth and death years. Incalculably helpful.

So from the information in the obituary, backed up by the confirmation from documents listed above, I was able to start branching out in my search for what happened to Oscar and his descendants. This led me to connect with third cousins once removed Henry Foutz, Kathy Allen and Sandi (don’t know your last name yet, dear).

As often happens — it’s true of me, too, of course — Henry, Kathy and Sandi were curious about their family’s origins as well, and beginning to coax info from parents and aunts and uncles, Ralph’s and Virginia’s kids, Nick Sr., Charles, Catherine, Arthur, Grace, Agnes and Frances. I shared the info I had, on our connection through Sherman, Oscar and Ralph, as well as the Foutz/Pfouts family story all the way back to Michael and Wuerttemberg, Germany.

Kathy and Sandi kindly shared the photo of their grandparents that is featured in this blog. (BIG THANKS!)

As for their Foutzes, Henry was been instrumental in putting together a big Pennsylvania Foutz reunion the last few years. From the photos he’s shared on Facebook, looks like it was a lot of fun. Maybe we can see that expand to include Ohio and other far-flung Foutzes?

As for filling in the details on Ralph, Oscar and the rest, what we still don’t know:

  • What happened to Lizzie Foutz (Sherman’s wife) after the 1930 census? We know she dies in 1945 and is buried with Sherman in Longview Cemetery near Bowerston, Ohio. What was she doing in 1940? She wasn’t living with Ralph or foster daughter Catherine? Where then?
  • What happened to Catherine (Foutz) Rutt, husband John Roy Rutt and their descendants?
  • What became of Ralph’s parents, Oscar and Florence, and his brother, Harry Sherman Foutz? Again, the last record I have of them is from a 1911 Reading Eagle article reporting Florence’s visit to Oscar at National Guard Camp Thomas Potter Jr. in Mt. Gretna.

I’m looking forward to working with newfound extend family to discover these stories together.

Categories: Foutz, General Genealogy, quickie post | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Foutz-Ley Family History Blogging in 2012


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 9,100 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 15 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Categories: Foutz, General Genealogy, Johnson, Ley, Weible | 1 Comment

Get a Clue, Geni.com!


Geni Subscription Options

Wanna go all out on Geni.com? This screenshot lays it plain - now it will cost you.

Why Geni’s Membership Changes Punish Contributors – and their Families

It’s not often in the pursuit of genealogy that your heart rate reaches red-line levels.

Researching family history is, after all, a mostly quiet endeavor, spent marking time combing through documents and records, digging through photo albums, chatting up great-aunts, gingerly stepping through graveyards to pay respects to our ancestors.

So, credit Geni.com with at least this much: their recent changes to pricing structure have, at minimum, gotten my blood pumping. Not to mention gotten me seeing red.

How do I put Geni.com’s November move to limit free accounts to 100 relatives and 1GB of media, while pricing unlimited family members and media at $7.95 a month, in perspective? I’ve been thinking about this post for several weeks now, and since I’ve heard from several relatives wondering what the deal is on Geni.com, let me respond.

UIOADUIO ASIPUHAS  ASJIH SHIOUGNKM @()*)(*D SKJHSNJKS

OK. Just let me unclench my fists first.

Imagine you were a physical therapist. You’d spent months of close work with a client who suffered an injury that rendered them unable to walk. Through your tireless work and dedication, the patient eventually regains full use of his legs.

How does he thank you? By proceeding to kick you repeatedly in the most sensitive parts of your body.

Or, say you were a local architect. Your town badly needs a community center — a place where young, old and families can gather and, well, be a community.

You offer your design and contracting services pro bono. You spearhead the fundraising efforts. You draw up the plans, hire the builders, oversee construction. You get the thing done.

Then, in appreciation, the community bars you from ever entering the facility.

These two examples, to me, almost describe what Geni.com has done with its new, um, “membership tiers”. How to make these analogies more accurate?

Have the patient not only kick you but every one of your colleagues and other patients.

Have the community ban not only you, the architect, but every member of your family and all your neighbors and friends.

Oh, unless you pay them just shy of $100 a year to stop.

A Family History Site with No Memory of its Upbringing

I joined Geni.com in August 2008, on an invitation from my wife’s cousin, Carl Knutson.

I was coming off book tour, and looking for something new to do before the next writing project. I decided to see what I could accomplish by working primarily from online sources — digitized censuses, birth and death records, other archived trees on other sites, etc. For awhile, Carl and I had a friendly competition about adding family members.

Geni’s look and design supported everything I was looking for in a social genealogy site. It was easy to build and view a massive tree. Ancestor profile pages were clean and supported multiple documents, notes and photos. Birthdays, anniversaries and other milestones were recorded and called out on the Home page. And communication between family members active on Geni was easy, intuitive and fun.

I soon invited dozens of family members to join the tree. I not only hoped that they’d be able to easily view and appreciate the work I was doing to unearth our shared history and ancestors, but they’d pitch in and add their own relatives, make their own discoveries.

A lot of them did. In fact, the combined tree for my wife’s and my families has more than 180 living relatives in it. Hang onto that number for later.

Still, most of them aren’t doing any heavy genealogy research. They primarily utilize Geni.com to send birthday and anniversary wishes, and pay respects to mothers and fathers and grandparents long gone. Hang onto that info for later, too.

As I got deeper into genealogy, I expanded and organized my arsenal of research tools. Geni, for all its interactive perks, has no research capability of its own. Let me say that again (and make note of it, too): Geni.com has no archives or collections or materials to aid you with genealogical research. Its stated over-arching focus is to build the One World Tree. (Kind of like Tolkien’s One True Ring, with apparently the same nefarious tendencies, judging from recent missteps.) To that end, on Geni, you add profiles, you post pictures, you record dates, you add documents, you manage your tree. It’s entirely user-generated content. That info has to come from somewhere. And relying on Mom’s memory only goes so far….

So I joined sites that actually have information and research materials to offer their paying members. And organized my approach, realizing that to truly map out my family’s history, I’d be committing years, not weeks. Genealogy is a marathon.

I began to use Ancestry.com as my main research site. For $13.25 a month, you gain access to all U.S. Collections, with the ability to browse internationally, and their collections are extensive: every U.S. census, digitized; birth, death and marriage records; newspaper collections; military collections; yearbooks and more; and the ability — though Geni.com seems to be blind, deaf and dumb to the competition here — to browse and connect and collaborate with anyone who shares an ancestor with you. In fact, Ancestry automatically notifies you when your ancestor is matched to records or other users’ trees. You’ve probably seen that in TV commercials — the leaves that pop up. Ingenious.

So, I divided my workload in this way: do the speculative work and hard research on Ancestry.com, bolstering that effort with all the free sites I visit, many of which, like Geni, build the data they boast on the backs of contributing members, sites like findagrave.com and familysearch.org. I’ve also traveled extensively in my genealogy work, documenting graves and homes and locations and digging through boxes of photos. When I confirm this info, I share it on Geni.com with my family, and, as a benefit to the site — everyone.

To date, on Geni.com, I’ve added 620 relatives, invited 76 family members, manage 579 profiles, added 622 photos (including documents, all from sources OTHER than Geni). Through my work, I’m connected to 2,717 people in the combined Foutz-Knutson tree, and 60.6 million others through the site.

And I’m sure my story is not unique. And I know I’m not the biggest contributor to Geni.com by any stretch. So why is there a Geni.com in the first place? Why do they offer as a perk to “Pro” members the ability to search and browse all the profiles and info added to the site? BECAUSE MEMBERS LIKE ME HAVE SPENT COUNTLESS HOURS BRINGING THAT INFORMATION TO GENI TO HELP BUILD THE WORLD TREE.

And now they want to slap all of us green-thumbed genealogists growing the world tree on our callused hands. As I mention above, repeatedly. And our family members, too. But what do I mean by that?

I mean exactly this: if you’re in my family and have joined Geni.com, whether you’ve added 600 other relatives like me, or you’ve just dropped by to view your beloved grandmother’s page or wish someone a happy birthday (or done absolutely nothing but log in), YOU ARE GETTING THE SAME MESSAGE BLOCKING YOU FROM ADDING PEOPLE AND INVITING YOU TO PAY UP THAT I AM.

That’s right. Because you’re connected to me, and I’ve added 620 people and 622 photos, you’re locked out. Can’t add a new son or daughter or grandchild. Can’t add that long lost great-great-great-great you’ve discovered. You’re stuck.

Gee, when you multiply that $95.40 annual PRO membership by the 187 living relatives listed in my tree you get $17k and change, and you begin to appreciate how the goal of building One World Tree has shifted to compiling One Big Stack’O Cash. All on the backs of contributing users and their families’ history. Nice.

My Modest Proposal: Get Social, Geni

My initial thoughts when Geni.com made these changes, before I heard about relatives getting fleeced too, were simply befuddlement over why, in the age of Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter, they couldn’t come up with an ad-based model to support what is, essentially, a social site.

And a social history site at that, which is what they do best and is fairly unique out there.

My experience, as someone who works in digital advertising, is that people aren’t going to pony up dough for what historically has been a free service, particularly if they’ve contributed the very assets that Geni is selling. But that people are savvy enough to accept changes that help support the longevity of the site when the on-screen advertising formats are regulated and controlled by the site and don’t affect functionality.

Basically, anything short of the site reaching into your pocket is reasonable.

What I would advocate — if indeed Geni must reach into your pocket — is some sort of model that rewards you for contributing to the site, for managing profiles, for adding the source records Geni lacks and building a World Tree that is accurate, comprehensive and, most important, accessible.

You add profile photos for 50 profiles in your tree? Great, you get a month of premium access. You actively manage 100 profiles that go back more than 4 or 5 generations in your tree — great, tack on another 2 months.

Otherwise, what, exactly are we paying for? The ability to send birthday greetings and anniversary greetings to parents and in-laws? Hell, practically all of them are on Facebook now. The ability to share all the info I’ve dug up (elsewhere, Geni.com, remember that?) I’m already doing that on this blog, though admittedly, the graphical ease of navigating profiles on Geni.com (or Ancestry) is, to me, the best way to really dig into a family tree and learn about your ancestors.

In short, Geni.com needs to capitalize on what it does well — the social aspects, the collaboration aspects — and put its collective braintrust to the task of finding a funding model that does not stick a hand out to the very people who are helping to build the world tree. There are too many other alternatives out there, paid and not.

Otherwise, when somebody kicks me in all my sensitive places or bans my family and friends from enjoying what we’ve worked to build? I take that resourcefulness and apply it elsewhere.

Categories: General Genealogy, quickie post | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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