Why does the Electoral College exist?

To the voters saying their vote didn’t count or calling for the repeal the Electoral College:

The United States is what is known as a “representative democracy“, a democracy one where a “group of officials represent a group of people or constituents”. In the US this translates to our US Senators and US Representatives.  The United States is not, and never have been, a “true” democracy.

Our system of government is constructed of a series of checks and balances; we’ve heard that phrase all our life, usually in the context of Congress, the Presidency and the Supreme Court. However, this is not the only check and balance built into our system of government.  Our Congress also consists of a check and balance system.

Every state has 2 US Senators regardless of population. The residents of Wyoming (586,000) have the same representation in the US Senate as the residents of California (39 million). The US House of Representatives is different. Each state receives a proportional number of the 435 Representatives (435 is fixed by law), with the caveat that each state receives at least 1 Representative.  The remaining 385 representatives (435 – 50 states) are divided amongst each state based on population  Who determines how many additional Representatives each state receives?  The results of the US Census which is conducted every 10 years!

These 535 individuals in our representative democracy (100 Senators + 435 voting Representatives, ignoring 6 extras)translates to the numbers assigned in the Electoral College. This is one side of the checks and balances system, provides 53 Representatives to California (those 39 million people) versus the 1 Representative for Wyoming (586k people). Because there are more residents in California they get a bigger voice in the House of Representatives via their 53 Representatives and thus a bigger voice in the Electoral College.  Do you see the symmetry between the two systems?  The US Senate provides the same representation per state while the House provides more or less voices based on population density, and the Electoral College mirrors those same to representative institutions.

When you look at the Election Map used by all the news channels, the number shown on each state is the number of electoral college votes each state receives, made up of the number of US Senators + US Representatives allocated to each state.  Again, all of the voters of each state funnel their total vote to their voice in the Electoral College (as they do the House & Senate) and that is their “representation” in the election for US President.

Why does this check & balance exist? Throughout history the needs of the majority of city residents overwhelms the voice of the rural residents.  Are you familiar with:

  1. This phrase “Fly Over Country”  Does it ring a bell? The description of many people on the east and west coast describing their flight between the “important” cities on the coasts; those major population centers, along with Chicago.  I cringe every time hear someone say they are crossing “fly over country”.  That area of our country is our breadbasket of, all that land devoted to growing wheat, corn, other grains, not to mention cows, hogs and other livestock, all of which appears in our grocery stores!
  2. What about those farmers in California that squander water raising crops?  The populist solution recently enacted (the voices of the city dwellers drowning out the much smaller number of farmers) was to divert the water from those wasteful farmers to consumers elsewhere.  Never mind that farmers in California produce 2/3rds of the US fruits and nuts and 1/3rd of US vegetables. Not very wasteful to me.  Personally, I like having fresh produce to eat year round, most of which is grown in the US.

Our system of checks and balances, at least on a Federal level, are supposed to provide a representative number of voices to each region, helping to minimize the conflict over limited resources, such as the one California is currently experiencing.  At the end of the day our representative democracy tries to balance the needs of the heavily populated cities against the needs of the rural dwellers, and it does this by implementing balanced representation.

Please do not pile onto the every 4 year bandwagon calling for the dismantling of the Electoral College.  To dismantle the Electoral College is to dismantle our entire system of democracy!

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Have you been a selfish FindAGrave user too?

I was looking at freeing some space on my computer yesterday and “rediscovered” the directory where I store digital pictures of cemetery markers for people that are not in my family tree!  This directory had just over 3,000 pictures, in 59 different cemeteries, and occupied a little more than 8 GB of disk space!  When I am walking around a cemetery looking for a specific grave, I usually have a mental list of the “last names” in the area that appear in my tree.  If I see a marker with that surname, I snap a picture.

My options include:

  • Delete the files (seems like a shame)
  • Ignore them (I want the disk space)
  • Add them to FindAGrave, then free disk space

Upload pictures it is.  In the first cemetery I worked with, Oakland Cemetery in Indiana, Pa., I started with 228 pictures.  Of those, only 7 were for people who were not already in the FindAGrave database.  Some of the people already had pictures of their makers attached to their memorial, so quick delete.

Along the way, I started to get a different sort of message pop up that told me I had filled a request someone had outstanding for a picture.  That made me stop and ponder a few things.  Some of these pictures have been sitting, ignored, on my computer for a few years, and people were waiting and hoping someone would go to the cemetery and take a picture of a loved ones grave.  Selfish, yes I have been selfish.  After all, I use FindAGrave as part of my usual genealogy research sites.

As part of my renewed effort, I am determined to upload the outstanding markers, and make sure that all of the people in my tree who have located markers also have memorials and pictures on FindAGrave.

To that end, here are my statistics on September 1st, 2016 1pm.  When I began on Wednesday (Aug 31st) I had uploaded approximately 450 photos.  I’ve since started on the second cemetery, Greenwood Cemetery in Indiana, Pa, and decided maybe I should chronicle my efforts.  It is somewhat gratifying to use this FindAGrave feature to chart my progress.  Especially the number of Volunteer Photos Taken.  Sadly, these are requests that I did not set out to deliberately fill, but were filled as a side effect of uploading older pictures, but filled requests they are.

FindAGrave Statistics

FindAGrave Statistics

When I finish uploading these pictures I will update this post to reflect my progress and effort to become a less selfish member of the broader genealogy community.

Do you have pictures taking up disk space on your computer that can be shared with the world?

I’ve finished, all cemetery photos of headstones for people not in my family tree have been uploaded.


Uploads end of the day Monday, 05 Sep 2016!


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As odd as many genealogists find it, I do not just chase down the military records of my direct ancestors, but also for the grand-uncle and the spouses of the grand-aunt, ok as long as I am confessing, and the 1st cousins.  Why?  Because military records including pension packets can be a gold mine of genealogical data.  In addition, a lot of these men served in units with each other, they married each others siblings, and frequently their children married.

David Tipton FaithIn looking at the pension packet for David Tipton “Tip” Faith, my 3rd great grand-uncle, I found several  exciting documents in the 200+ pages of material.  David served in the Civil War and received an invalid pension.  However, David did not serve alone, he served with a couple of brothers and a brother-in-law.  David, William (my 3rd great-grandfather) and Michael are the sons of Henry Faith and Elizabeth Barnhart (4th great grandparents) and Abraham is the husband of their daughter Elizabeth.

  • David Tipton Faith – Company F, 75th Pa Volunteers
  • William Faith – Company F, 75th PA Volunteers
  • Michael Faith – Company K, 105th PA Volunteers
  • Abraham Wallace – Company A, 78th PA Volunteers

ReputationsIn the case of David’s pension, a Special Examiner’s investigation was conducted, with depositions being gathered from several members of the community.  Notice the column labeled Reputations.  I’m not sure how these reputations were derived but William, his sister Elizabeth and her husband Abraham enjoyed a better reputation than father Henry and brother Michael.  Nice to know that William had such standing in his community in 1885. According to a newspaper article I found, father Henry was known for his drinking and storytelling, so I must say I’m not really surprised to see he only had a “fair” reputation.

Signature of Henry Faith

Even at age 86 Henry, who died at age 91, was able to appear in town and was judged mentally competent enough to provide a deposition to support his son David’s case and as was still able to legibly write his name!

In one Civil War pension packet for a 3rd great grand-uncle, I found the words of my 3rd great-grandfather William, his siblings, his brother-in-law, and my 4th great-grandfather, Henry.   Makes me very glad I pull all of those “uncle” pension packets!

Henry's deposition

Henry’s deposition

William's deposition

William’s deposition

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This and That

Random thoughts.

Have you ever searched census records on ancestry.com?  Ancestry.com has a neat feature where you can correct a name that has been mangled in the index, allowing other cousins to find the person.  This is a great feature but only works when the name is only slightly mangled allowing the search to find it.  When I can’t find a person by searching, I usually browse the individual census records for the town/township where I believe my relative was living.  What I haven’t figured out is an easy way to edit the index to correct the massively mangled name.  Does anyone know a way to do this?  And if it doesn’t exist, ancestry.com, can you add a button to support locating a family on the page that allows the correction to the index?

Registration for the first week at GRIP is tomorrow, February 10th.  Have you ever attended a week long genealogy institute?  I highly recommend the experience!  There are several different conferences available at different times of the year.  Registration is generally first come first served and many classes develop waiting lists (which is why I have an alarm set 60, 30 and 15 minutes out from go time).  GRIP is held in Pittsburgh, Pa and since I live in Pennsylvania, it is the only institute that is drivable distance for me.  The instructors at each conference are the same nationally renown speakers that you would see at a “regular” genealogy conference.

Each week long course is devoted to an in-depth exploration of a specific topic:  DNA, The Law, Advanced Research Skills, Pennsylvania Research, German Research, Military Research, etc.  From the outside, a week seems like forever, but time flies with sessions that delve deeper into a topic than can be covered at a shorter conference with 4 lectures, (or in a 60 minute session).  This year GRIP has 2 different week long sessions:

  • June 26 – July 1st (registration is tomorrow February 10th)
  • July 17 – July 22nd (registration March 2nd)

Additional information about GRIP can be found at http://www.gripitt.org/ .

Note, I am not affiliated with GRIP and do not receive any benefit or compensation from this post.


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Local Tax Records

On Friday (Jan 22) I made a trip to the Northampton County PA Archives.  The archives is located north of Easton in Forks township and the staff are wonderful.  It was not my first trip to this archive but it was the first trip for Jill Stephens and we had a great time.  In my local county records research, I have secured the deeds for our ancestors from Northampton county, Lehigh county (prior to 1812) and Carbon county (prior to 1843).

County Tax Spreadsheet

County Tax Spreadsheet

I assembled a spreadsheet listing the ancestors I was interested in tracing, by year and for each year listed the townships where I have deeds saying they owned land.  I used state abbreviations for people who had moved out of the area or elsewhere and as they relocated to other PA counties I identified the county (if known).  I used dashes for those who were too young to own land in a year or were deceased.

Northampton County Taxes 1776-1808

Northampton County Taxes 1776-1808

My spreadsheet starts at 1752 when Northampton county formed and ended in 1850.  Based on what we found at the archives, it appears that Northampton County has tax records from 1776 – today!  You read that right, they have approximately 235 years of tax records!  Year, after year after year.  Some of the early tax records are stored as loose papers in file folders (1776-1808) in 5 cardboard boxes .  A few years appear to be missing, but we found my ancestors in most of these years.  Years post 1808 are in bound books by town and township name, in stacks on the archives shelves.

Between Jill and myself we took over 320 photos in a little over 4 hours (flash off) as we divvied up the work and passed the camera.  These records are not indexed, requiring you to read each fragile page.  The good thing was that the records were usually in alphabetical order.  Below is the 1885 Northampton county tax record for Heidelberg township showing Johannes Rumbel and his son Johannes Rumbel, Junr (2 above last row).

1885 Taxes Northampton County PA -- Johannes Rumble

1885 Taxes Northampton County PA — Johannes Rumble

The years from 1809 – 1850 will need to wait for another trip.  Thankfully, I live within an hour of the archive.

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Connecting to Database Redux

Have you seen this message “Connecting to database ..” in GenDetective and been frustrated that it never goes away?  There has been a recent upsurge in this issue after installing GenDetective OR after running GenDetective for months and, after installing updates, GenDetective experiences this issue.  If you have seen this issue, the solution to this issue is simple and quick.

First, what is the cause of the issue?  There are multiple versions of  Access  available and GenDetective uses the most recent Access Runtime 2010.  Office 2010 was the last version to run on all of the older versions of Windows, which were still supported and in widespread use, at the time of the GenDetective v2 release.  Sometimes, updates to software will helpfully remove older versions and newer versions may discourage the installation of older software.

I understand that this can be very frustrating!  In the blog post #1 Question Asked About GenDetective I discuss the software that is installed by GenDetective during installation.

What’s the solution?  You can easily address this with a couple clicks of your mouse:

  1. Uninstall GenDetective 2
  2. Reboot to make sure no part of GenDetective is running
  3. Download the runtime version of Access 2010 from Microsoft here
  4. Install the downloaded Access 2010 runtime
  5. Reinstall the full version of GenDetective v2 and the issue should be resolved
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Hello New Ancestors

2015 was a great year for my genealogy and family research.  For starters I didn’t disown anyone and that is really good news!  One of the things I do at the end of the year is look back over the prior year to refresh my memory on the newly identified ancestors and any disowned ancestors (aka ancestors I thought were mine but were not).  Each research year is filled with a lot of little successes and disappointments, however, I like to take stock of my big discoveries.

In the disappointment area, I haven’t made any progress on determining the parents of John Silvius husband of Anna Maria Yeagger, despite spending quite a bit of time in the Westmoreland County Courthouse.  I am a member of a group that is researching the Silvius/Silvis/Silvies/Silfies/etc family and they have determined parentage for John.  However, there are some issues (no offense to anyone in the group, but, I have unanswered questions).  DAR has information on John and Anna Maria, and unfortunately, I’m not certain that all of that information is correct either.  As a DAR member, I know the database is not infallible, especially for Patriots proven early in the DAR history.  The standards of proof were not as rigorous as today.  The parentage of John and Anna Maria just got the big reset button.  The more I research, the more I uncover additional John/Jonas/Johannes/Jonathan Silvius’s in the same area leading to a lot of documents and thus conflicting conclusions.  My long term task will be to go back to Greensburg and pull everything for any male Silvius with the names John/Jonas/Johannes/Jonathan and start sorting.

Now for the great news!  This year I welcome the parents of Agness Snyder/Schneider to my family tree: John Snyder and Agnes Finkbeiner.  Agnes is my 3rd great grandmother and she was married to Nicholas Reefer (or Rëfer/Reifer/Riffer/Refert), my 3rd great grandfather!  The Reefer’s and Snyder’s have been a dead end for me for quite a few years.  However, using a brute force method of genealogy research (read all wills of all men with a certain last name in a county during time period to be parent of someone hoping to uncover a clue), I hit the jackpot!  I found a will for one John Snyder/Schneider in Westmoreland County, where Agnes & Nicholas were from, whose wife was Agnes and who had a married daughter Agnes Rifford.  While the spelling isn’t a 100% match to any of my “known” variants, it is close enough that I leaped on the find.  The more I dig, the more information I have uncovered.  At this time while I don’t have “the smoking gun”, I do have a lot of circumstantial information supporting this conclusion, but wouldn’t it be nice that with my next visit to the courthouse I could uncover definitive proof?

That’s my summary for last year’s big genealogy finds, what are yours?

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