Monday, February 29, 2016

Donating or Selling Family Heirlooms to a Museum

Are you feeling overwhelmed by your family heirloom collection?  We have been having this discussion at our house.  What is the best long term archival solution for family heirlooms?  Have you considered donating or selling your family heirlooms to a museum?

Mae Moss Coffman was known as "Coffee" to her co-workers.

Mae Moss as a young woman.  Oral history was that she had a photographer boyfriend.

The first step is to identify a museum that might want your family heirlooms.  Make a list of museums that you have visited or that are on your list to visit.  I tend to visit museums that might have historical collections related to my family history.  For example, one of my favorite museums is the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA).  I have tons of family history centered in Oakland, California.  My grandmother and her sister grew up in Oakland and were surrounded by many family members who lived in Northern California for decades.  Perhaps the OMCA might be interested in my family heirloom collection.

Once you have identified your preferred museum for donation or sale, visit their website and read their donation and sale policy.  For example, here is the policy for donation from the OMCA website:

"Donating or Selling Objects to the Oakland Museum of California
            Thank you for your interest in donating or selling items to Oakland Museum of California’s permanent collection. Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) collects art, history, and natural sciences objects related to California.
In order to consider your donation of artwork(s), artifact(s) or specimen(s), OMCA requires interested parties to submit a written proposal to be considered by our curatorial and collections staff.
Please note, proposals for gifts that would qualify for the 2015 year-end tax deduction needed to be received by December 1, 2015. 
What to include in a proposal:
In order for Museum staff to consider the object, please submit the following information in your proposal:
Whether you are offering a donation or sale. If the item is for sale, provide price and any conditions or terms.
Connections to California are essential, so please be sure to state them.
Information about the object such as: a general description; the name of artist or manufacturer (if known); dimensions; date made; history of how it was made or used; and, any other details you can provide.
Good pictures. Visual documentation is also important to the process, in particular to help assess condition.
How you came to own the object. Please also include any formal documentation of ownership.
Once we receive your complete proposal, OMCA staff will carefully consider your offer, and make a decision based on criteria such as its relevance to the OMCA mission, how well it fits with plans for the OMCA Collection, whether it is in good condition, and whether we can adequately care for it in the future. Not all donation or sale offers can be accepted.
We respond to proposals on a first come, first served basis. However, depending on the unique considerations of each proposal, it can take anywhere from one month to six months for us to respond.
Please do not bring objects to the Museum. We will be in touch if we need to view the item(s) in person. Note that we cannot offer appraisals nor can we recommend appraisers. For these questions, please visit the American Society of Appraisers website or call ASA at 800-272-8258.
Mail proposals to:
Oakland Museum of California Attention:OMCA Lab, Acquisitions Committee1000 Oak Street, Oakland, CA 94607

Or submit via email to:
Thank you for your interest in supporting the Oakland Museum of California."

This seems like a great model for a donation to any museum.  My proposal would center on preserving the collection of a working class family based in Oakland, California.  The matriarch, Mae Moss Coffman Forbes was raised in an orphanage in Sacramento and came to Oakland from San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake.  She was married in Oakland in 1907 to Ernest Coffman.  Ernest lived in Oakland near his parents, brother and sister and their families.

Ernest Coffman, Elaine and Vivian's father written by Vivian.
Ernest and Mae moved to New York City before 1910 so Ernest could work as a branch manager for the Gas Consumers Association.  Mae had her first daughter, Elaine in Manhattan in 1910 and Vivian was born in New Jersey in 1916.  The family was back in Oakland by 1920 residing with Ernest's sister, Viola Coffman Hughes.  Mae worked as a cashier for Owl Drug.  Ernest went into the automobile tire business with his brother, Otis Coffman.

David and Viola Hughes, Oakland, California
Coffman Bros. Tires Advertisement, Oakland Tribune, October 17, 1920
Ernest and Mae were divorced by 1925.  Ernest kept Vivian in the care of his sister, Viola Hughes and Mae kept my grandmother, Elaine.  Mae remarried to Ernest "Doc" Forbes, the pharmacist at the Owl Drug Store where she worked in 1936.  Doc was born in Australia in 1884 and immigrated to California in 1904.  I have dozens of objects related to all of these family members that I might like to donate.

To make a donation of family heirlooms, the next step is to make an inventory of your family heirlooms and write a proposal.  So excuse me, I need to get busy!

Ernest "Doc" Forbes, Pharmacist, Owl Drugs, Oakland, California

Doc Forbes at Owl Drug, Oakland, California

We used to have Doc's mortar & pestle at our house when I was a kid.  I wonder what happened to that one?

Doc Forbes at Owl Drug
Doc was a Mason in the Sequoia Lodge joining in 1908.  Governor and Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren was the Worshipful Master in 1928 and the Grand Master in 1936.  I have Doc's copy of the Fifty Year History of Sequoia Lodge, No. 349 F. & A. M. Oakland, California published in 1952.  I also have a pocket watch, pen and dozens of photographs of him and Grandma Mae.  Are they worthy of preservation in a museum?  I plan to photograph, inventory and write up the stories that go with these objects.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Genealogical Estate Planning- 101

What will happen to all of your genealogical data and heirlooms after you die?  Are you amassing hundreds or thousands of ancestors and collateral relatives in your genealogical research?  Does everyone view you as the family archivist and send you pictures, documents and heirlooms for long-term preservation?  What is your genealogical estate plan?

Many people have been forced to consider these questions after the December announcement by of their intent to discontinue selling the Family Tree Maker software line as of December 31, 2015.  Earlier this month, announced new agreements with two software companies that will provide desktop software for syncing with your family tree(s). They closed their announcement with this request:

"We ask for your patience as Ancestry’s product team works with Software MacKiev and RootsMagic. As soon as we have an update, we will make another announcement. For now, just know these options are coming and will be in place before the end of the year to ensure you do not have a break in tree syncing and preserving the work you have already done." - See more at:

I have to admit that genealogical estate planning can be a daunting task.  I reluctantly migrated to Family Tree Maker and as my preferred genealogical data solution after the demise of the Personal Ancestral File software.  If you need historical context on Personal Ancestral File, please read this article by a fellow blogger from 2013. However, I had progressed with my understanding and use of Family Tree Maker to the point of toleration if not full acceptance.  I currently rely principally on my online tree at as my first point of data entry.  I use Family Tree Maker to back up my work to my personal computer.  Occasionally, I use FTM to work offline. I frequently use FTM to print family reports for myself and my clients.  I also continue to use Personal Ancestral File for report generation, ready reference and searching notes fields as it is much faster to access data than FTM.

The development of the Family Tree at has been very heartening to me and has given me a backup plan. I am attempting to keep my genealogical data at both and  I am frustrated that it appears to be a dual entry solution.

Screen shot of my portion of the Family Tree at
I am intrigued by the announcement that Roots Magic software will sync with  Roots Magic advertises itself as: "the genealogy software named 'Easiest to Sync' with new FamilySearch," I notice that this moniker was announced by FamilySearch in 2009. Hopefully someone out there in cyberspace will give me a more recent impression.  Will Roots Magic be a potential bridge between and  Is anyone else looking for a bridge between and  What are your thoughts on these matters?

Given that many are beginning to foretell the death of the personal computer, this discussion has much greater urgency.  I hope that you will offer your perspective on these matters by commenting or contacting me. Genealogical estate planning is a subject worthy of becoming a continuing series of blogs.  We are all in dire need of genealogical life-preservers.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Showdown- Marshall vs. Scalia?

Sometimes history collides with current events in ways that make us think that we are experiencing  "Deja Vu."  Two events happened in Texas on Saturday that make me wonder if history is about to repeat itself.

The author of the "The Butler", Wil Haygood was in Houston on Saturday promoting his new book, "Showdown" about the appointment by LBJ of civil rights leader, Thurgood Marshall to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Haygood's premise is that the nomination of Marshall to the highest court profoundly changed the racial politics of our nation.  He tells the story using the framework of the dramatic and contentious five-day Senate hearing on the confirmation of Thurgood Marshall as the first African American Supreme Court justice.

Wil Haygood and Nick Cimino 2/13/2016, Texas Southern University, Houston, Texas
As my wife and I walked off the Texas Southern Campus, the news alerts appeared on our phones that Justice Antonin Scalia had died at a hunting ranch near Marfa, Texas.  Republican presidential candidates began making statements about blocking the nomination of Scalia's replacement. The president said on Saturday that he will nominate a successor to Justice Antonin Scalia, ignoring the protests from Republicans. The dynamics of the Supreme Court will be fundamentally changed by the death of Scalia.  To learn of Scalia's death after hearing stories about the Thurgood Marshall nomination was uncanny.  Another "showdown" is about to happen in the Senate.  If there is a heaven for esteemed jurists, perhaps another debate is about to begin.

I have to say that I was riveted by the humor and historical insight of Wil Haygood's lecture on Saturday.  I bought a copy of the "Showdown" book in hopes of getting his autograph.  The lecture was held in the Sawyer Auditorium of Texas Southern University which is also the site of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law.  The introductory speakers included the new Houston Mayor, Sylvester Turner, Congressman Al Green and Dannye R. Holley, Dean of the Marshall Law School.  I was impressed by the Dean's introduction of Mayor Turner that described him as "super qualified" and "super prepared."  Among his many qualifications, Mayor Turner graduated  Magna Cum Laude with a B.A. degree in Political Science from the University of Houston.  This contrasted humorously with Haygood's self described qualifications as graduating "magna cum lucky" in urban planning from Miami University in Ohio.

In the spirit of the past being prologue, Haygood shared several anecdotes from the writing and the filming of the "The Butler."   One of the luckiest moments in Haygood's life was when he decided to write a newspaper article about Eugene Allen, the butler who served in the White House during the terms of eight presidents.  Haygood wanted to explore this unique moment in American history by profiling a person who was raised in an era when segregation was so ingrained into American life, that the thought of a black president was incomprehensible. He was covering the Obama campaign as a reporter for the Washington Post and he saw the tide turning toward election of the first African American president.  Haygood drew inspiration from the quote of Dr. Martin Luther King: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

One of the anecdotes about the research and writing of Showdown that I found particularly inspiring as a genealogist, was about the discovery of a very prescient letter in an Arkansas archive.  Haygood stated that sometimes in the writing process "you just have to go there" to find the hidden research gems.  Texarkana resident, Barbara Ross, wrote a letter to Sen. John McClellan, after listening to the racist tone of the Senate hearing on the radio. Haygood read the words that Ms. Ross wrote with  her new typewriter in 1967: "If he doesn't get the nomination, there will be others who seek after the same opportunity when it is there. There will be hundreds, Senator, and you can't fight them all…One of these days, the President of the United States will be a Negro."

Image from the dust jacket of "Showdown" by Wil Haygood.

The new book about the Marshall appointment is mandatory reading towards achieving a well-informed citizenry especially given current events with the passing of Justice Scalia.  The efforts of southern senators to block the Marshall nomination in 1967 are about to be replayed in the Senate in the coming weeks.  The Washington Post has described Justice Scalia as a "brilliant legal mind who snubbed civil rights at nearly every turn."  Perhaps the prophetic words of MLK are about to resonate once more.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Harvesting Ancestors-Lessons from the Garden

In genealogy, as in many other pursuits, we reap what we sow.  This summarizes several lessons learned this past Saturday from professional genealogist, Sharon Batiste Gillins at the Clayton Library in Houston.  The metaphors from the garden that she used in her presentation entitled Harvesting Ancestors-Lessons from the Garden provided excellent examples of genealogical lessons with a broad appeal.  I highly recommend her as a keynote speaker for your upcoming genealogical events.

A gardner at work, 1607
SOURCE: Wikipedia citing Anonymous - Hausbuch der Mendelschen Zwölfbrüderstiftung, Band 2. Nürnberg 1550–1791. Stadtbibliothek Nürnberg, Amb. 317b.2°, via, Public Domain,
Gardening is one of Ms. Gillins favorite past times as it gives her time to "mull and ponder" about the things that occupy her mind in her genealogical research.  Her practices learned from the garden were compared to genealogical practices and illustrated with examples from genealogical research.  The content was definitely suitable and accessible to beginners, intermediate and advanced researchers.  All of us need to practice the good research habits that were demonstrated in this presentation.

For example: "you can't garden without getting dirty."  This garden reality leads to the realization that genealogy research is physically demanding and messy work.  Ms. Gillins used an image from a county courthouse to illustrate the heavy volumes that must be lifted in dusty rooms filled with allergens.  Genealogy research can be a strain on the eyes and the back.  Exploring old cemeteries exposes a genealogist to the hazards of brambles, thorns, bugs and snakes.  We must prepare ourselves for the difficult and challenging work of genealogy.

"Know your soil: it is the foundation of the garden" leads to her recommendation that we "learn the context in which our ancestors lived."  The geography, history and political organization of the localities in which we are researching, is a necessary preface to understanding the lives of our ancestors.  Laws influence the shape and form of records that were formed in the past to suit certain political purposes.  Understanding the historical context of those records that we use today for genealogy helps us to analyze and interpret our family history.  She went further by describing sources and how they are helpful in understanding the context including almanacs, city directories, maps and land information.

Some of the other lessons that she taught were:

Garden: "The harvest comes after a long growing season." Genealogy: "Credible results must be cultivated over time."

Garden: "Get in close; important details can be easily overlooked" Genealogy: "Mine every document for hidden information."

And there were many more lessons.  You will have to invite her to speak to your genealogical society to learn them all.

I was especially gratified when Ms. Gillins used another metaphor of a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle to explain the process of fitting the genealogical facts together into an image of our family history. "Some of the pieces look like they should fit but really don't."  We need to avoid the tendency to force fit the pieces of our "Ancestor Puzzles."

I first learned of Ms. Gillins talents when I read an amazing article about her discovery of some artifacts of a slave from the Moody Mansion that have been sent to the Smithsonian.  I met her last year when she spoke at the Family History Conference of the Texas State Genealogical Society.  I was impressed by the depth and the wide applicability of the examples in her presentations.

She will be one of the featured speakers at the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research coming up in June 2016 in Track 10 on Researching African American Genealogy: Black Roots in Unique Collections. Sign up soon as classes at the IHGR are filling up fast.  This will also be the last opportunity for those of us in Texas to attend the IHGR in Alabama before it moves to Georgia. Hearing Ms. Gillins speak will help you to find a bountiful harvest of ancestors!