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Library Matters is a podcast by Montgomery County Public Libraries exploring the world of books, libraries, technology, and learning.
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Now displaying: October, 2018

Library Matters is a podcast of Montgomery County Public Libraries (MCPL) in Montgomery County, MD. Each episode we explore the world of books, libraries, technology, and learning. Library Matters is hosted by Julie Dina, Outreach Associate, Lauren Martino, Children's Librarian at our Silver Spring branch, and David Payne, Branch Manager of our Davis branch and Acting Branch Manager of our Potomac branch.  

Oct 24, 2018

Listen to the audio

David Payne:  Welcome to Library Matters; video host David Payne.

Lauren Martino:  And I'm Lauren Martino.

David:  And today we are going to be talking about trees, not the ones with leaves on, but of the family variety.  And genealogy is our subject for today’s episode, and we are delighted to welcome two of our avid MCPL staffers who are going to share their genealogical experiences with us.  I, first of all, welcome Adrienne Miles-Holderbaum.

Adrienne Miles-Holderbaum:  Thank you.

David:  Adrienne is Senior Librarian at our Germantown branch.  Also I'm very pleased to welcome to today’s episode, Carol Reddan who is Library Associate at Olney.  Welcome Carol.

Carol Reddan:  Thank you.

David:  And you are both very dedicated, passionate, and experienced genealogists and we are very pleased to have you share your experience with us.

Carol:  I’ll take it.

David:  Well compared to some of us. Anyway let’s start by asking you both basically what is genealogy.  Let me start with you, Carol.

Carol:  What is genealogy?  Well, I had to look that up and a basic good definition is the study of the ancestral lines and that’s what I'm going to go with.

David:  We’ll take it.

Carol:  Okay.  All right.

Adrienne:  Yeah.  I looked it up and Merriam-Webster says it’s an account of the descent of a person, family, or group from an ancestor or from older forms and it’s a study of family ancestral lines.  I think everyone comes from somewhere and everyone has roots.  We just didn’t appear out of nowhere and that’s why it’s fascinating.

David:  Right.  That covers everything.

Lauren:  So what got you two interested in genealogy to begin with?  Let’s start with Carol.

Carol:  Just curiosity and I like detective work and it’s the ultimate puzzle, detective puzzle.  And everybody is always, “Where am I from?  What is my line?” And when you get real philosophical, you realize we all had to start from one point and then break apart and you get in that real chicken or egg kind of a mode and you just want to keep going further.  It’s just basic downright human curiosity.

Adrienne:  So for me it’s a little personal.  My father didn’t know his biological parents.  He was a fostered child in New York City and he always wondered who his parents were and he would always talk about it with us.  So it’s a natural interest that I’ve already – always had.  It’s something I’ve always wanted to know.

So I think that also kind of guided me to become a librarian because I’ve only been doing research for so long on this topic and just wondering like how we get to where we are, in general.  So that was very influential.  And I'm interested in genealogy.  Also I really enjoy Henry Louis Gates.  He is an author and he has the show in PBS called Finding Your Roots and I watch every episode.  It’s fascinating to me to find about history and about people and I just – it’s just – I find it infinitely interesting.

Also as an African-American, I’ve always wondered about my roots because a lot of our roots are kind of missing due to the Transatlantic slave trade.  Even my last name I’ve always known it wasn’t my last name, for other reasons, my dad was a fostered kid, but also because a lot of African-Americans, our last names aren’t like blood-related.  So immigrants from other countries also have changed their last name to anglicize them.

So I think it’s not just African-Americans and I have that curiosity, but I’ve always wondered like, ‘where does my name come from, where does this come from,’ so that kind of stemmed my interest in genealogy.

David:  So the fun fact, USA today found that genealogy is the second-most popular hobby in the country after gardening, and the second-most visited category of website after pornography.  Why do you think that genealogy has become so popular?  I’ll start with you, Adrienne.

Adrienne:  I guess it goes back to familial origins.  Everyone has them, even if you don’t know them like in my father’s case we'd all have it no matter what.  Like I said earlier, no one just placed here like out of nowhere, we don’t just come here.  So I think it’s fun, it’s interesting.

David:  And rewarding.

Adrienne:  And rewarding, right, rewarding and it’s time-consuming but rewarding and it’s – I think it’s a skill that anyone can develop if you have the patience and the interest.

Carol:  Yeah, I would concur, I think everybody is curious about where they are from, but I just think the influx of DNA, DNA testing and now it’s so easy and it’s advertised and it’s publicized and it’s very easy now.  Price keeps coming down to just send in a sample and find out your DNA and start that search.  So it’s easy.  It’s more accessible now to start it sort of as a hobby.  But, yeah, you do have to be careful because it can’t be a hobby or it can really like overturn your life and I have those stories too.

David:  Presumably you talked about accessibility.  Presumably the availability of electronic resources...

Carol:  Well, that end – to just send away for a kit now, I did ancestry like four years ago and it was like $150.  Just like when you bought a toaster in 1950, it was a certain price.  And what is a toaster?  $12.99 on sale.  And the cost of these kits keeps going down.  They have specials.  So it’s making it easier for more people to do and more and more people are doing it, which is why I keep getting updates on the ancestry why my apparently ancestry keeps changing because they have more people to match it against, because more people are doing it.

Adrienne:  What’s interesting is my father did it in 2006.  He did like ancestry – I don’t remember what DNA website he used, but it was expensive, but also it wasn’t very specific.  It was like very general.  It was like 50% European, 50% Sub-Saharan African.  So he is like, okay, now it’s like super detail.  The sample size is larger.  So they have more I guess DNA to pull from.  So it’s like so different, so…

Carol:  But even still be aware because there are commercialists.  I always thought I was German.  Now I got my results back and I have to buy kilt. Keep the lederhosen because it happened to me.  It happened to me because I get updates and if you go and get a tattoo, you might be in trouble with the Viking tattoo.

Lauren:  So Adrienne, you’ve been doing genealogy research for a while now.  How is it different now than a DNA testing as so readily available from when you began?

Adrienne:  Sure.  I feel like it’s easier.  I’ve been getting – so the website I used, we entered our email addresses and then you can also be contacted.  So I’ve been contacted from like distant cousins and I’ve contacted distant cousins and we were like, “Are we really related?” How are we related?  What does it mean?” And I don’t know how accurate or what it even means or if it means anything.  But I definitely think it’s the world is smaller and we are more accessible, so the information is more accessible and you are more -- yeah.

Lauren:  You are making connections with people whereas before you just might just know them as a name in a book.

Adrienne:  Right, right, but if you have like names or last names like familial names that you are aware of, it is interesting to kind of contact those people with the last names who are matching and really figure out the common ancestor.  I’ve done that with like one person in particular.

Lauren:  I love doing that.

Adrienne:  Yeah.

Carol:  That’s the best way to do.  It is to find a match and then to try to go up the trees and it’s like a little puzzle to find the point where you connect and it is changing a lot because I’ll get updates all the time.  I’ve done 23andMe and Ancestry and I get updates on both of them all the time and Ancestry particularly it just gets easier and easier.  The more people do it, more people upload pictures like just you think you will never see a picture of your great, great, great grandfather, you might.  And that’s like when you hit pay dirt.  That’s like when you see a picture of these people.  That’s the best.  So distant cousins are uploading military records, pictures, family – all kinds of content.

Lauren:  Wow! It is exciting.  So did you find a lot of difference between like the two, you said you use like 23andMe and Ancestry?  Did they agree with each other or?

Carol:  No, of course not.

Lauren:  Not?

Carol:  The DNA part of it I don’t really want to focus on so much because you just – for me being 99.4% European, so for a European, Europe was a mess for so many years and I'm the commercial where I always thought I'm just German and Irish, German and Irish, pretty straightforward, but I did ancestry three years ago and it said 29% Scandinavian, 25% Italian-Greece, 24% Irish, Iberian Peninsula, European Jewish and I was like, oh, I'm way more exotic than I ever thought and I was getting into it and loving it.

But then the update comes and you go full circle and it’s like right back where I started from, German and Irish.  Yeah, so I take it with a grain of salt and what the DNA is telling you is who your DNA matches people where they are living today.  It doesn’t tell you, oh, this is matching people from the past.  And the thing about people is they have always moved around a lot.  So my DNA tells me what my DNA looks like to people related today.

But my ancestors, if I go up family trees, I have ancestors in Switzerland in the 1500s.  I know they were there at that point.  I don’t know where they were in the 5th century, the 6th century, the 7th century and all that’s impacting your DNA.  So I suspect in a couple of months I could have a new update saying something even yet more different, so that I take with the grain of salt.  I put more importance on the family trees and oral history and how those combined.  That’s what means more to me.  I know it’s kind of fun to say, oh, I'm this, I'm that, but, hmm, you are just a mud.

Adrienne:  Yeah, and I feel it the same way.  I think one interesting thing is my dad did his DNA and he is like 42% Iberian Peninsula which is Spain and I'm less than 2%, but I know I'm his daughter.  So what genes did I get?  So it’s just – it’s like if I really was just to go by my DNA, it wouldn’t really tell a story.

Carol:  And the other part of that is every time every person is a card deck shuffle of genes.  So I always think about Queen Elizabeth and Norman the Conqueror and he is supposed to be like 26th great grandfather, but really if you were to extract DNA from him and her DNA, I wonder if they would match on any segments because a first cousin you should match 12 to 14%.  A second cousin 6%, a third great grandparent like 12%, so it’s diluting, diluting, diluting, but yet like I saw that picture, my great, great grandfather and I swear we look like him.  It’s spooky and creepy and great.

David:  Well, you both talked a little bit about resources.  Let me ask you both, ‘what MCPL resources would you recommend for genealogy?’ Actually I should mention for our listeners that any O and O resources that we mention in today’s episode can be found in the show notes for today’s program.  So, Adrienne, let me ask you.

Adrienne:  Sure, Heritage Quest is a database that has census records, the US Freedman’s bank records from 1865 to 1871, Revolutionary War era pension and Bounty Land Warrant application files and you can search, find information on people and places describe 28,000 family and local histories via Heritage Quest.  We also have newspaper databases for arbitrary research and that’s pretty popular.

A lot of customers come in looking for a specific arbitraries of family members.  We have links to Legacy.com, the Social Security Death Index and we have vital records all on our database, on our lib guide.  So, yeah, that’s our – and then a librarian to show you these resources.  So I think those are pretty awesome resources and I know Carol has some books that she recommends.

Carol:  Yeah, I do have some books that I really, really liked.  First one is, you mentioned Henry Louis Gates Jr who does the PBS series and he wrote a book Finding Your Roots, and this book goes into several celebrities in-depth.  Robert Downey Jr, Kevin Bacon, it’s just interesting to see their -- to a certain degree, and it absolutely proves it – How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Denise May Levenick, some helpful points on keeping, archiving and keeping keepsakes.

Also Genealogy for Dummies, Matthew Helm and April Leigh Helm always your good basic guide and AARP Genealogy Online, Matthew Helm and April Leigh Helm again, was also very helpful.  But the other one I do want to mention which is fairly new, Adam Rutherford, a brief history of everyone who ever lived.  This is more like a critique.  It gives you – he is a geneticist and it gives you the real low-down on what DNA testing is good for, what it’s not good for, we over-promise, we over-expect and it’s pretty realistic and it’s very, very interesting.

Adrienne:  I think also we have a link to the Montgomery County Historical Society on our website and that’s good for local history.  If you are doing local genealogy research you could use their resources also, so.

Lauren:  In addition to MCPL’s resources, do you have any other sources of information that have been helpful to you or you think might be helpful to other people that are beginning genealogy research?

Adrienne:  The Ancestry.com which I think is the most popular website that people use for genealogical research.  I have only used it like  I haven’t really got in-depth.  I don’t know, Carol you use it.

Carol:  I have been using it.  So I did Ancestry and right now I have a subscription.  So I will pay extra for a few months while I really delve deeply into family records or whatnot.  And so it’s giving me access to just a zillion databases, military records, most importantly the family trees that other members have compiled and you can easily go up those and then the content that they’ve added on their family trees, they’ve done all the research for you basically.  Newspaper clippings, wedding photos, graves, pictures of grave sights and things like that, so the thing I found most valuable is the family tree access that Ancestry offers.

Adrienne:  I would agree.  I have a cousin doing research and he gave me access to his the family tree via his account and I was amazed, but he has found another…

Carol:  Right.  One thing about 23andMe that I like though is that when it gives you your match list, when you send in your DNA and the company comes back and they tell you your ancestry or whatnot, they will also give you DNA matches which typically can be like a thousand people who've also done that service.

So these are like your distant cousins, it will hierarchy it.  Like it will have the people who you are most closely related to on down to, you know, that you share 15% DNA within 10 segments down to 5th or greater cousins and you share like a little half segment percent of DNA.  And it's fun to go and click on these distant cousins and 23andMe lets you bring up both charts and they will overlap and show you exactly what chromosome you are related to that cousin on.

And then you can block out like I have Jewish ancestry.  So I have cousins who I can put our charts together and I can see that we are related on the 10th chromosome which is where my Jewish ancestry is.  So that tell me I'm related to, it’s a Jewish ancestor we have in common.  So then I can go on Ancestry that website and look up the family trees and I'm looking, trying to find the Jewish ancestor.

Adrienne:  That’s so cool.  The Family Tree DNA is the site that I used for my DNA, I guess, my DNA results.  But – so it’s similar for that website but there is also a site called GEDmatch.com where you can upload your raw autosomal data and then it combines different – anyone who uses it, so anyone can download their raw autosomal data from any of the other websites like Ancestry.com or Family Tree DNA or whatever and then…

Lauren:  So raw what data?

Adrienne:  Raw autosomal, I hope I'm pronouncing that right.

Lauren:  What does that mean exactly?

Adrienne:  Okay.  Let me find out.

Carol:  And while Adrienne is looking, I’ll just want to bring up a point about people when you get results from Ancestry and 23andME or private companies who just swear they are not going to share your information and I believe them, I believe them, but many people and I’ve done it, you upload your DNA to this public site which now is just billowing out with tons of DNA, but it’s awesome because this is the way they are catching a lot of – catching cold cases and…

Adrienne:  And we talked about that…

Carol:  This is a huge breakthrough for crime solving.  It’s like combining genealogy with forensics.  They go and you take the DNA from a crime scene and they’ll upload it to the public database and they’ll get a hit and you might have a person’s fourth or fifth cousin, but they’ll – but then they will give it to a genealogist or better if you can be both the genealogist and the forensic crime expert.

Lauren:  So everyone leave librarianship.

Carol:  Well, my dream job, but then they work it back and they are starting to solve a lot of cases like that.

Adrienne:  So autosomal DNA is a term used in genetic genealogy to describe DNA which is inherited from the autosomal chromosomes.  An autosome is any of the numbered chromosomes as opposed to the sex chromosomes.  So humans have 22 pairs of autosomes and one pair of sex chromosomes, X chromosome and the Y chromosome.

Lauren:  So it’s basically just the DNA data?

Adrienne:  Yeah, it’s just your raw data.

Lauren:  Okay.

Adrienne:  I'm not a geneticist, but I know I had to upload that.

Lauren:  It sounds good to me.

Adrienne:  To GEDmatch.com, which is really helpful if you are doing genealogy research because it broadens the pool.  So not just people have used Ancestry.com, other websites they’ve used.  If they’ve used GEDmatch and they’ve uploaded their data, you can like access it.  It's like open-source DNA.

Lauren:  Open-source DNA, public domain.

Adrienne:  Public domain.  There is also a website called Geni.com like Geni.com, like genealogy, not spelt that way, but Geni.com another librarian told me about it and she has done a lot of family research with that.  It’s also an open site.  It’s free, so Ancestry does cost money, but Geni.com is free.  So that’s another barrier for Ancestry.  You have to do monthly or yearly fee for it.

There is also Facebook genealogical groups that people are members of.  There is also an old school message boards for different surnames that you can join.  So people with your surname or if you are doing research for someone in your family that surname you can join the message board.  Also YouTube has videos.

Lauren:  YouTube?

Adrienne:  Yeah, so there is like videos and like how to conduct your family, like I just did a research and I found a bunch of stuff and people like it and it has a lot of views.  So you can also use YouTube to do your research to know how to do your research rather, if you don’t come to a librarian, you can go to YouTube.

Lauren:  You mentioned a while back just like the patience involved.  I think that that’s sort of preventing me from starting on any kind of journey like this, because just the scariness of the sheer amount of research all of this requires, do you have any tips for beginners like kind of where to start, what kind of resources probably the first go to?

Carol:  I would say the first is the census records and it does take tenacity and will power to stick through it.  But when you find something out that’s so gratifying, it makes it so worth it.  So census, I’ll give you a little family story and how I solved and how difficult and time-consuming it can be to solve it.  So my mother always told me when she was little, she would visit her grandmother, so my great maternal great grandmother, and in her room she had a picture of a really pretty young girl that she would look at and cry.

And it was her niece who she loved very much and she had passed away in the flu pandemic in 1918 and she would get teary-eyed every time she looked at this picture.  So I was, “What’s her name?” I just lost the history.  She doesn’t even know where the picture is.  And so I was like always curious about what her name was, and my great grandmother loved her and everything.  So I started with census records.  And it is just excruciating.

My great grandmother's name was Laura Hollenbaugh who was born in 1875 and she married a McDorman [Ph] [00:21:47].  So Laura Hollenbaugh was one of like eight kids which was really common.  In Pennsylvania you have eight or nine kids and it’s a real problem when these things come through the woman, and to follow census records through the woman because of all the name changes.

So I wanted to find out who this relative who died in the flu pandemic was, and I know that it’s my great grandmother's niece.  So I go through my great grandmother all her brothers who carry that last name and I go through all the census records, and then some of them are -- 1900 is a mess because of a fire, and da, da, da, da, da, and you just have to like stick with it.  The handwritings faint and light and messy, but it didn’t appear it could have been any of the brothers.

None of them had a daughter that would have been the right age around 1918.  So then I had to go to the women, her sisters and you start going through and – but I hit pay dirt, Mable Ployer.  She was actually 40 in 1918 and I saw her church death record, the actual death record signed by the doctor.  She reported feeling ill on October 1st, 1918, and so she died on October 9th.  All the church records for October and November influenza, influenza, influenza and it was Mable Ployer.

She was my great grandmother’s niece, but they were peers.  They were like the same age because she was the daughter of my great grandmother’s older sister who was like 18 years older than my great grandmother.  So I know her name, but I know I need the picture.  I need that picture.

Adrienne:  I would say talk to family members to get names from your oldest family members, so your grandparents or great aunt or someone that is, that might have the memory of someone that was older than them.  So like my grandmother, her grandmother, like so you can go back as far as you can and get family names.  I think that’s a good way to start.  And then I would say then I would look in the census once I have the names and like have the rough dates and locations, like places, because when you look up census, you need to know the dates, you need to know roughly the area or the state where they were from.  So I think that’s important to get oral histories from older people.

David:  So presumable assemble as much information possible…

Adrienne:  Exactly, exactly, I think that’s so important to get that first.

Lauren:  Yeah.  When you do a search in any of these databases and they have their charts to fill out; fill out as much as you possibly can, because then – otherwise you will be getting hits of just tons of non-applicable data.

Adrienne:  Right.  And you can also -- they spell things differently in the census records.  Sometimes it was like a neighbor – it looked like the person wasn’t there.  The neighbor is like, oh, that’s so and so and so like the names, the spellings can be off even the years can be off.  For me the race could be off because when I look to like some – the one year my family was Mulatto, then they were black, then they were Mulatto.

So it’s really like – it’s kind of tricky even when you have the census data.  So I would say start with oral history from your family and get the names, get the dates, get the places, and also vital records after you have the information.  The birth records, the marriage, death certificates, census, use the library.  And also be prepared for the emotional reaction because you may not have one, but someone in your family may have one about something you discover.

So just be aware of that.  Not everyone is excited.  So just be aware of that.  Not everyone will have the same excitement you have or the same curiosity.  They may say you don’t want to know that or I don’t want to know that.  So just be prepared for that too because I think that’s something I wasn’t really prepared for when I did the research.

Lauren:  Do you have any examples or any stories?

Adrienne:  Sure.

Lauren:  That you would be willing to share it or…?

Adrienne:  No, my father, so I mentioned my father not knowing his birth family.  I actually found his maternal, his mom and her family and he was kind of like curious but then said he didn’t want to know, but then he found out and it was just so much – there are so many different emotions and she actually passed right before we found the family and ironically I was able to find the family based on obituary.

So I had been doing research for a long time and just couldn’t quite connect all the dots and then I found her obituary and she passed away in 2015 and then I found like all the family names and part of her story, most of her story and then I was able to find her living relatives through Facebook.  My brother did and so we were contacting people and we got some really interesting responses from some of our family.

They were – there was one person who was barely – didn’t want to talk to us and then there was one person who was so wonderful and he is the one that connected us with everyone else.  So we got some different, some pushback, what’s your aim, why are you contacting us, so, yeah, you just have to be careful with that, but it turned out they are really lovely people.

Carol:  So my story is my rocking chair I have in my house now, my little rocking chair that I got many years ago when I just needed stuff to fill a place in my – this had been in my parent’s basement just kind of, I mean, not treated mean or anything, but it was just sitting in the basement and I was like, oh, I’ll take that and it was this little rocking chair covered in, a trillion tons of paint.

Any my father was hesitating.  He was like, “Well, yeah, okay, but…” And I think I had heard the story before.  It belonged to his great, great grandmother, my third great grandmother Sarah Bush and Sarah was – lived in Northeastern Pennsylvania like Schuylkill County, and she would rock in the rocking chair and wait and worry for her husband to come home from the Civil War.  It was her worry rocking chair and he never did.

He died at Gettysburg.  Benjamin Bush died at Gettysburg.  I was like, oh, that’s sad.  But I took the chair and we like sanded all the layers of paint off of it and refinished it, and it’s really more decorative.  I don’t really want to challenge it by sitting in it.  It’s just to look at, put a stuffed animal on.  But I would always go to Gettysburg like in the ‘80s and early ‘90s before all of this, and we tried to use the research tools they had at the time because suppose Benjamin Bush was buried at Gettysburg and we just came up and did nothing, nothing, nothing.

So I joined Ancestry.  So I start plugging in everything I know about Sarah Bush, her rough dates of birth and the family, and I start plugging it in and you start going up the family trees and I see that Sarah Bush was married to Benjamin Bush.  Sarah Bush died in 1914; she was born in 1816.  Benjamin Bush died in 1911, but they are buried together in Art Cemetery in Hegins, PA.  And I'm like, oh, I thought he was buried at Gettysburg.

Now you go up the family tree.  Sarah had a first husband Immanuel Moyer who is actually my great, great, great grandfather and he died in 1864 at the Cold Harbor Battle in New Kent County, Virginia and it makes me so sad because no one remembers him.  She was only married to him for like eight years but they had four kids together and then she married Benjamin Bush like in 1867 a couple of years after the Civil War was over and he did die.

So family history kind of had some correct things.  She was waiting for her husband.  She was rocking in the chair, but it was her first husband Immanuel.  He didn’t die at Gettysburg.  He died at Cold Harbor and he – we also didn’t know he was listed in American Civil War Jewish veterans, which was something we never knew or anything.  So I tell all this.  I think this is fascinating.  I think this is awesome.  I'm like, “Hey, it’s not Benjamin Bush.  It’s Immanuel Moyer.  And don’t you know this?”

And my dad was like no, whatever.  And I'm telling my cousins.  They are like, “So?” And I'm like, “Doesn’t this mean I figured this out?  I figured this out.  This person is who you are related to.” And they are like, “Yeah, whatever.”

Lauren:  They don’t want their family legends.

Carol:  I’ve done all of this work for them.

David:  But it was rewarding for you.

Carol:  Yeah, totally gratifying.  The picture would just be like, ‘oh my gosh!’ So now you talked about history in a way weaving history with this research.  So now I'm like all about the Cold Harbor Battle, the Overland Campaign, we went down to New Kent County.  It’s very close to Williamsburg and I went into the Resource Center there and I'm showing the man who worked there, I'm showing him the park range or whatnot, see, he died June 21, 1864.

He was like, “Well, that’s wrong.  That’s impossible.” But I'm showing him the actual military record on my phone.  He was like, “No, because this battle ended June 10th.” I'm like, “Well, this says June 21.” And also the family story was that it was kind of mean.  They said, “Oh, yeah, he was on picket duty and he stuck his head out and got himself shot like it’s his fault.” Like give him a break.  Blame the victim.

But he had just been promoted to sergeant a week before and then – so the man at the station started doing some looking into his computer.  He was like, “What do you know?  You learn something every day.” And he found out there was skirmishing.  Some people had to stay behind and there were little outbreaks of rebellion and he like even made it through Cold Harbor Battle proper, but in the skirmishing, he was shot like in little rebellions like a couple of weeks later.  It makes me really sad.

Lauren:  So are there some groups of people that’s easier to find out information about than others, because if you’ve lived in the same place forever and ever and ever and you’ve got county records that go back forever and ever and ever, that’s one thing.  But if your ancestors came from another country, there are some special challenges if your ancestors came over in a slave boat, so there are some special challenges.  Do you know any research strategies for people that are kind of running up against it, because they don’t fit the common mold of people doing genealogical research?

Adrienne:  Yeah, definitely.  As someone who is African-American, so my descendance, in any descendance, even if you are in like the Caribbean or South America descendance of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade have a lot of difficulty due to slavery and we talked about that a little bit earlier that in the US it’s specific to the year 1790 to 1860, which was right before the Civil War.  An awesome resource.  Actually there is a PowerPoint from the national archives that has a guide to doing research for African-Americans, which is awesome, I’ve used it. 

And we can link to it in the show notes because I can send it and make it available to everyone.  So it says and I'm going to quote it, it says, "Some aspects of African-Americans in the census differs from that of other groups, particularly before 1870.  This is due to the enslaved status of the majority of the black population, and the legal marginalization of those who are free prior to the 1870 census.  Even after 1870, the census often undercounted the black population."

So it talks also about after 1870, so after the Civil War, this is – it’s the first time a list of all the African-Americans by name is provided, and it’s the first official record for a lot of families and the surnames in there usually, of former slaves, from their slave owners, and that’s the case for my family.  So I was able to do research on my dad’s side back to 1870 and that census is when I first see the last name, the family last name and it’s actually mills not miles.

So it was pretty interesting.  And then problems for all groups, so there might be hard for all eight groups if you have the wrong ages, if you use Geni.com or Ancestry.com, someone else might have done research, but it was incorrect and then you are using that research to do your own research, so then it just keeps going and going.

Lauren:  So you have to take it with…

Adrienne:  Exactly and mistyped names, the wrong ancestor, so you just have to be really careful and really – some of them might not be accurate but you just keep doing your research and try to connect the dots and you would see what makes sense and what – how does the story, how is the story really told and find out.

David:  Well, you both regaled us with some great stories.  Let me ask you about all the research and all the wonderful things you’ve come up with.  What’s the most interesting thing that you found out doing genealogical research?  Let me start with you, Carol?

Carol:  I uncovered a murder February 1922.  Everyone has that – if you look long enough, the things you find, so this was – I found this through Ancestry where in certain family trees, they’ve posted these articles, so apparently in 1922 my paternal grandfather’s cousin Lloyd Smith shot his father John Smith who owned a dairy farm outside of Harrisburg.  So that was the story.  That’s what he was tried for murdering his father.

His defense was that it wasn’t him, auto bandits did it.  So Harrisburg put him on trial and it was a fairly big sensation in Harrisburg.  The newspapers talk about like 200 people being – coming to watch the courtroom trials or whatnot, and I found pictures of the grieving widow with her youngest son, and he was acquitted and the courtroom, the newspaper articles referenced the courtroom erupted in cheers; they were very happy he got off because apparently his father John Elias was some known to be like a jerk or whatnot.  And even his mother was very, very happy he got off.  They hugged and he came back to live on the family farm and he lived until 1966.

David:  We typically close each episode by asking, I guess, what they are currently reading.  So let me ask Adrienne.

Adrienne:  Sure.  What am I reading right now?  When do I have time to read?  So I'm trying to read The Wife by Alafair Burke.  I'm also reading lots of organizational books for home.  I like design books just because I like looking at interior design, but also as a new mom to two and I work full time, I'm super busy, so I'm obsessed with organization.  So there is a couple of – yeah, right, anything to hack my life, so the Modern Organic Home by Natalie Weiss, Mad about the House: How to decorate your home with style by Kate Watson-Smyth and she is a blogger, a British blogger.

Clean My Space: The Secret to Cleaning Better, Faster and Loving Your Home Every Day by Melissa Maker and she is a professional cleaner and she provides her tip and I'm like I want to know.  And then also I'm reading another kind of organizational books for work.  So I'm reading about organization like management, so The Nordstrom Way: The Story of America’s #1 Customer Service Company by Robert Spector.  It’s an older book, but it has a lot of good tenets about good customer service.

And then another book called Under New Management: How Leading Organizations Are Upending Business as Usual by David Burkus.  So I'm obsessed with home and work like making both better, so, yeah.  That’s what I'm reading.

David:  It sounds like you will be organized.

Adrienne:  Yes, hopefully.

David:  Carol?

Carol:  I'm reading Sybil Exposed by Debbie Nathan and I'm reading this.  I had read it a couple of years ago.  So technically I'm rereading it.  We are going to have a nonfiction book club at Olney on October 24.  This is the book we will be discussing.  So it’s by Debbie Nathan and it sort of dissects the whole Sybil explosion.  If you remember in the mid ‘70’s, a book came out Sybil and the woman who had 26 personalities and about her doctor and…

Lauren:  It was a movie too, right?

Carol:  It was a miniseries with Sally Field that won many awards and it was an explosive book and everyone thought they had multi-personalities and they were starting to be diagnosed with the whole little explosion.  Well, Debbie Nathan goes into it and she does the book about Sybil whose real name was Shirley Mason, her doctor, and Flora Schreiber who wrote the book and the psychiatrist was Cornelia Wilbur and how Sybil really probably never had those personalities.

She just wanted to please her psychiatrist who just wanted to be famous and Flora Schreiber just wanted to hit book.  So one thing led to another.  Basically Sybil just had a few problems, but it just exploded into some movement.

Lauren:  It’s kind of true crimey, right.

Carol:  Not true crime, but you can make this stuff up.

Lauren:  Thank you so much Carol and Adrienne for joining us today and sharing your family stories.  Please keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.  Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on the app of podcast app Stitcher or wherever else you get your podcasts.  Also please review and rate us on Apple Podcasts; we'd love to know what you think.  Thank you for listening to our conversation today and see you next time.

[End of audio]

Oct 23, 2018

Summary: Genealogy enthusiasts Adrienne Miles Holderbaum and Carol Reddan share their love of researching family history and talk about the resources available at MCPL and elsewhere to help you learn more about your own family's history.

Recording Date: October 10, 2018

Guests:

Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Senior Librarian at Germantown Library and co-producer of Library Matters. Adrienne was a guest on the Library Matters' pregnancy episode, #30 - Baby on Board, Resources for New & Expectant Parents.  

Carol Reddan: Library Associate at Olney Library. Carol was a guest on Library Matters' August 2018 true crime episode, #38 - Murderous Memories - True Crime Stories

Hosts: Lauren Martino and David Payne

What Our Guests Are Reading:

Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: The Wife by Alafair Burke, The Modern Organic Home by Natalie Wise, Mad About the House: How to Decorate Your Home with Style by Kate Watson-Smyth, The Nordstrom Way by Robert Spector, and Under New Management: How Leading Organizations Are Upending Business as Usual by David Burkus.  

Carol Reddan: Sybil Exposed by Debbie Nathan 

MCPL Books and Other Resources Mentioned During this Episode

AARP Genealogy Online by Matthew L Helm and April Leigh Helm

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford

Finding Your Roots by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 

Genealogy for Dummies by Matthew L. Helm and April Leigh Helm

Heritage Quest: This database includes US Census and military records, city directories, full-text family and local histories, Freedman's Bank records, and more. 

How to Archive Family Keepsakes by Denis May Levenick

MCPL Genealogy Guide

Other Genealogy Resources Mentioned During This Episode:

23 and Me: Consumer genetic testing service for genealogy and health.  

African Americans in the Federal Census, 1790-1930, Using Federal Census Records to Find Information on African American Ancestors

Ancestry.com: Popular genealogy database.

AncestryDNA: DNA tests for ethnicity and genealogy. 

Family Tree DNA: DNA testing for ancestry and genealogy. 

Finding Your Roots, PBS series

GEDmatch.com: DNA and genealogical analysis tools for amateur and professional researchers and genealogists. 

GENi: A popular genealogy tools for sharing family histories.   

Other Items of Interest:

6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon

Montgomery County Historical Society

Read the transcript

Oct 10, 2018

Listen to the audio

David Payne:  Welcome to Library Matters, with your host David Payne.

Julie Dina:  And I am Julie Dina.

David Payne:  And today we're looking at local voting.  In case you haven't heard, it's election season again.  And on the ballots, there are a number of issues which have a bearing on local, state, national interest, things of interest.  And we're delighted to have a very special guest with us today for the podcast, Dr. Gilberto Zelaya, or otherwise known as Dr. Z, outreach coordinator at the Montgomery County Board of Elections.  So, welcome, Dr. Z.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Thank you.  Thank you for having me.

David Payne:  For our very first question then let's ask you about the Board of Elections.  So a lot of people don't know, what is the actual role of the Board of Elections, what do you actually do.  And what actually interests me is, obviously, elections happen twice a year, but I presume your work is year-round.  What do you do or what does your year look like for you?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Okay, so we administer the, not only the local elections, but the state elections as it pertains to a particular contest.  So we have them every even year, so a Montgomery County resident will vote, exercise their constitutional right every two years.  So, obviously, 2016 was the presidential elections. It's 2018; it's the gubernatorial midterm elections.  And then after this election we're looking again towards the presidential in 2020.  In between elections, on the odd years, we do a lot of outreach.  We look at best practices; we looked towards our neighbors and our counterparts across the U.S. to see what programs, what systems we could implement to improve the process, not only for the voters, but internally.

We do a lot of voter maintenance, equipment maintenance, extensive outreach.  We have an aggressive outreach campaign, an incredible team that goes out into the community.  So a lot of individuals will say, what do you do every other - like in the odd years.  I would love to say sleep.  But the fact is that we are always working.  And then what's interesting, the election profession is something that you don't really grow up wanting to be.  You know, when I grew up I want to be a police officer or a librarian or a physician, you never say an election administrator.  But it's a very rewarding profession.

David Payne:  Uh-huh.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  I was one of those 18-year-olds like, "Why do people vote?"  But now as an adult and in my past experiences it's very critical that every individual exercise their constitutional right to a secret ballot.  Maryland is extremely progressive as it pertains to the franchise.  We have a lot of incredible mechanisms in which we will allow voters to vote.  And so we are tasked, and that was the first part of your question.  We are tasked to be ready for every single registered voter who desires to exercise that right.  We always look for 100% turnout.  Some elections are dismal.  But we always prepare for a full turnout.

David Payne:  Uh-huh.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  And we want to ensure that if an individual has a desire to exercise their constitutional right that we are prepared, and we are transparent, and we are ready.

David Payne:  How many regular staff do you have year-round?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  So, we're about 24 full-time county employees.  And then we will bulk up to over a hundred temporary seasonal staff and do an incredible extension of our team.  It's similar to other departments like recreation; they hire a lot of lifeguards.  So when it's election season we have a lot of individuals we hire, from election judge recruitment, polling place support, operations, nursing home program, outreach.  You know, we really - there's a huge need to be there and ready to serve the public.  And we do a lot of outreach as it pertains to newly naturalized citizens to introduce them to their franchise.

For us, we have our bias because we know how the system works.  You know you have to register to vote.  But Montgomery County is extremely diverse.  I believe five of the 10 top the most diverse cities in the nation are in Montgomery County.

David Payne:  Uh-huh.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  And we recognize the abundance, the beauty of the various languages and cultures.  And so we want to meet them halfway so they understand their constitutional rights.  We want to make sure they're ready and they're prepared, and we want to meet them halfway to ensure a seamless, painless experience.

David Payne:  Great.  Sounds like you're doing a good job.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  I hope so.

Julie Dina:  Well, since I'm also in outreach for the libraries, I know you mentioned earlier the nursing home program.  Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Yes.  So we identify and we work with nursing home facilities, assisted living facilities in Montgomery County, and we do extensive outreach.  We will reach out to their social coordinator or therapist or a social worker and we set a date and time, and we train our staff to be competent in how to help these individuals exercise their rights to vote.  Whether health reasons or they can't access their polling place on Election Day or during early voting, we ensure that they could vote and leverage an absentee request to vote by mail.  And then also we would assist them and they could vote with our team members.  We send a team of opposite parties, democrat or republican, or a democrat and unaffiliated, and then we're there to serve.  And we will meet them at their facility.  So we coordinate that ahead of time.

In between the election seasons if there's new facilities that arise or maybe some will close or they expand, so we do a lot of maintenance to maintain those relationships with the different facilities in Montgomery County.

Julie Dina:  Wonderful.  So it sounds like you ensure no one is left out.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  That's our goal.  You know, that's our goal.  Our goal is to ensure that everyone has access to their franchise.  We're always trying to find that equation, that precise science how to encourage people to vote, but that's at the personal level.  But we want to make sure that you have a multitude of options.  And Maryland, and specifically Montgomery County, I call it The Cheesecake Factory of elections, because if you ever go to a Cheesecake Factory there's a million things in that menu and you always pick the same one, as I am always guilty of getting the orange chicken.  But at the same time you have vote-by-mail numerous weeks before actual Election Day, you have eight days of early voting.  And then you have Election Day.

And on top of that, we have same-day registration, and we have an aggressive outreach component, nursing home program.  It's a large, large - we have a lot of tentacles in the community, but that little piece of crust, the turnout, we're always trying to fine-tune that to encourage individuals to exercise that right to vote every single election.

David Payne:  Uh-huh.

Julie Dina:  Well, talking about relationships and building relationship, can you tell us the difference between the county's Board of Election and the County Government, what are the major differences, if there is any?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  So, we follow policy procedures established by the Maryland State Board of Elections.  So we're kind of a quasi agency.  We're county employees, but we follow those rules established by the State of Maryland.  We do collaborate closely with the county executive, the assistant CAOs, obviously the County Council because they have to appropriate our budget.  And so there is a close relationship between county government, the council, the second floor, the county executive, the assistant CAOs, but also with the delegation in Annapolis and with the State of Maryland Board of Election.  So it's a large family, so there's a very close relationship with all the parties.  And then the most important individual is the actual voter.  So it's both from the bottom-up and from the top-down.  So yes, there's that close relationship between all parties.

David Payne:  Do you work closely with other Maryland County Board of Elections [CROSSTALK] [00:08:51]?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Yes, we have our neighbors.  I mean, there's over 24 counties in Baltimore City, so we work closely, and we also meet for best practices.

David Payne:  Uh-huh.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Sometimes you have smaller counties, like Wicomico, they do some really great things.  And also, they want to implement what we do in Montgomery County.

David Payne:  Uh-huh.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  And later on we'll talk about some of the successes that we implement here in actually one of the programs, it's the only program, it's called the Future Vote Initiative.  It's the only program in the entire United States that brings in students as young as middle school to work as Election Day aids, and the goal of the program is for them to serve as a full-fledged election judge before they graduate from high school.  And just in 2016, we had over 1,100 17-year-olds serve as an election judge.

Julie Dina:  And do they all have to go to Montgomery County public schools?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  No.  As long as you are a Maryland resident and registered to vote you could serve as an election judge.  Obviously, if I you live in Howard County or Prince George's we don't want to take their voters from them.  But at the same time, a lot of them will work for Montgomery County, they live close, maybe near Sliver Spring, and so it's just a matter of the voters' interest.  And we let them know you could vote for the - you could participate in Prince George's County and, but a lot of times they’ll serve for us.  At the end of the day, whatever works for the voter works for us.  But for those individuals that do live outside of Montgomery County but within Maryland we do coordinate with them, so they could vote either by mail or during early voting, but we still want them to cast their vote even if they're working for us on Election Day.

David Payne:  So, Dr. Z, let me put you in the spotlight.  How long have you worked with the County Board of Elections?  What do you most like about it?  And what you find most challenging?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  So, I joined the Montgomery County Board of Elections on September of 2003.  And actually a little tidbit, I was the outreach coordinator for the public library system from 2000 to 2003, when I joined - prior to joining the Board of Elections.  What I enjoy is meeting individuals, informing them, giving them the tools to be successful to have an outstanding experience while voting.  There's a lot of sacrifice that come before me to have the opportunity to engage and empower the community to vote.  I personally, my family is from El Salvador.  So even during the Civil War I had an uncle who actually disappeared trying to bring democracy to El Salvador.

David Payne:  Uh-huh.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  So I have a personal vested interest in the right to exercise your voting privilege.  What's challenging with my position is the hours.  And I've been blessed with a great family; I have two sons.  Sebastian is 12 and Julian, he's nine, and a beautiful wife, Karen.  And polling 15 hours a day, but it's a short period.  You know, it's a short-term commitment with long-term impact because 90 days leading to an election it's busy.  There's a lot of moving parts.  You want to make sure that the machinery is well-oiled, and so you pool a lot of hours.

David Payne:  Uh-huh.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Election night is a long day.  The last day of early voting it's a long day.  But it's very rewarding.  And there's always - of course, we all take our vacations and our breaks, but my family, they, when I became a father my children were young.  And so they know that it's an even year, "Good night, Dad.  See you tomorrow."  And so that's the most challenging, is the time commitment needed.  But the reward is way - they're much, much, much, that the rewards are like ten-folds.  And so it's a commitment, it's a sacrifice.  And it's my little part I could help to defend the constitution.

David Payne:  And, I presume, the ultimate reward is seeing high voter turnouts.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Yes.  In the beginning when I worked, that was my goal.  And then I would get frustrated because then the turnout wasn't as high as I expected.  But my reward is daily.  Today, this is a reward for me, the fact that I could inform, and educate, and empower a voter; someone may learn something today.  That will satisfy my cup for the day.  But yes, we always, not just me, but the entire agency, from the director down to myself, we always desire a 100% turnout.  And we if we in the low 16%, like we did in 2014 or a little under 25% this past primary, we will always tweak the machine and hopefully aim for a higher turnout.  But at the end of the day, we're all adults.

And for your reason why you desired not to vote, it can't be for the options, because once again, we have The Cheesecake Factory options of voting; there's a lot of options for you, so your time, your vote, your voice.  So it's imperative that you decide how you're going to exercise that constitutional right through a secret ballot.

David Payne:  Absolutely.

Julie Dina:  And while we're still on that note, for our listeners, can you tell our listeners why it is very important to vote for the local elections.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Well, all politics are local.  And it's important that there is an empty seat at the table.  And I think by exercising your right to vote you are being known.  You show up, you're prepared, you get your sample ballot, you do your due diligence and your research, and you mark your ballot, you scan it, and you go home, and you get that famous I Voted sticker.  And so I assure you, you will feel so much better when you get the sticker on your lapel or on your chest; it's a badge of pride.  And like I said earlier before, a lot has transpired to keep that right to vote.  There's so many countries around the world that desire to have what we have.  And when you have an average or a low voter turnout it does hurt.  But at the end of the day, I'm here to serve.  I'm a public servant, and I will do anything to help you reach that goal of helping you vote.

I can't tell you how to vote, do not carry your left or right, center, up and down, north, east, west, south; it doesn't matter.  But my desire at the end of the day is that you cast your vote.

Julie Dina:  And have you mastered ways that might be helpful to get great turnout?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  You know we've done a lot of outreach.  On average, we average about a thousand outreach events in election season.

Julie Dina:  Wow.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Where it's - we, for the presidential, between the 2014 gubernatorial general and the 2016 presidential primary - general primary, I apologize.  General presidential elections, we did over 1,100 events.  And I personally do not care if it's a room with five people, like today, we're four.  And - or a big event, like Oktoberfest in Kentlands with 5,000; it doesn't matter.  That opportunity to connect with an individual, and so we have done farmers' market, PTAs, food drives; we've done it all.  We've gone to clinics and shelters.  So at the end of the day, we want to meet individuals halfway.  So we've done it all, both electronically.  We're kind of meeting millennials with this whole QR codes and geo-fencing, and a lot of neat things are going on right now.  But at the end of the day, whether you got a sample ballot or you get a geo-fence tag, whether you got a QR code in the mail, whether you saw us at an event or a farmers' market or at the library, that individual must take ownership and a desire to vote.

David Payne:  So we talk about voting.  Dr. Z, can you remind us when Election Day is this fall?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Yes.  So Election Day is Tuesday, November 6th.  Our polls are open from 7:00 AM till 8:00 PM.  We have approximately 235 precincts.  Voters should definitely look out for their sample ballot, which is mailed several weeks before Election Day.  And then, also, we have early voting.  So if Tuesday, November 6, and you're busy, then you could vote during early voting, which is October 25th, that's a Thursday through Thursday November 1st, from 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM, that includes the weekend, Saturday and Sunday.  And we have 11 early voting centers across Montgomery County.  What's interesting, you're not tied to a specific early voting center.  So let's say, I'm going to use myself as an example.  I live in Clarksburg; I am doing events Downtown Silver Spring, at the Silver Spring Library.  I could flex my right to vote at the Silver Spring Civic Center.

But for Election Day you are tied to your Election Day precinct.  However, we are blessed with traffic in this area.  If for some reason you can’t make it to your precinct you could go to a neighboring precinct, you would vote a provisional ballot, and then we would do some research to ensure that whether that ballot is accepted in full or not.  But we do encourage you to do due diligence, to go to your neighborhood precinct on Election Day, but the early voting centers are there to facilitate access to the franchise.  So you have early voting, you have Election Day, and then you have vote-by-mail.  Right now we have the absentee vote-by-mail application online.  You can make a request via email or the old style, download an application and mail it to us.  And then we will do our due diligence to send the appropriate ballot style to that address that is presented on the application.

Julie Dina:  So, for those who haven't already registered, how can they do so, and how can people find out if they have registered in the past or not?  And also, how would they find out where their local polling station is?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Okay, great questions.  So the first thing, I encourage individuals to go to our website, which is 777vote.org.  You go to our website, and if you scroll to the bottom there's a tab that says Voter Lookup.  And you would click on that or tab if you look on your cell phone and you - it depends.  You have to be correct, unless you have a touchscreen monitor at home.  And what you would do is you would put your last name, first name, date of birth, and zip code, and we will cross-reference that information, it'll tell you've registered or not.  If you don't get anything back from the database then we would encourage you, on the same website, especially if you have a Maryland driver's license, a Maryland permit, or a Maryland ID, you could register to vote online on our website, and it's easy.  You could see, it says Voter Registration, and there's a tab that says Register Online.  But you must have one of the Maryland-issued IDs in order to do so.

If you do not have an ID, driver's license, or permit, there's also a tab, Register to Vote, and you could download the paper format, fill that out, and mail it to us to the address that appears on the application.  Even if you live in Prince George's or, let's say, Washington County, it's the state form.  And on the back of that form is the corresponding address for that corresponding local board of election of Baltimore City, so you can mail it to them.  If you are already registered but you want to do maybe a name change, address change, party affiliation change, you could actually fax your application to the local board of election if you don't have a Maryland ID or driver's license or permit.  But if you do have those forms of ID you could update your registration online.

You could go to the libraries.  The libraries will have copies of the voter registration application.  You could go to the local DMV or the Motor Vehicle Administration to register as well.  There's a lot of options, there's a lot of - you know, this is Maryland, and you live in Montgomery County there's no excuses.  And I, trust me, I've spoken to thousands of voters over my career, and I've heard all the excuses, and I come back with …

David Payne:  There isn't one.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  There isn't one.  This one's on you, my friend.

Julie Dina:  It's all on you.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Yes.  So there's a lot of options.  And they could also call our office, 240-777-8532.  And I will - definitely glad to help, and we're there to serve.

David Payne:  Great/

Julie Dina:  Sounds good.

David Payne:  So, a couple of other voting questions.  When is the last day to register to vote?  And also, if anyone perhaps new to Montgomery County, are there any particular residency requirements to vote?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  So, as it pertains to the deadline, it's Tuesday, October 16th.  As it pertains to residency requirements, if you've registered to vote, we have something called same-day registration.  So, let's say you missed the voter registration deadline and you're new to the county, you could register to vote during early voting.  You would present ID, Maryland-issued ID or driver's license or permit.  And if you don't have that because you just moved in, then proof of residency, bank statement, the lease of your home, utility bill with your name and the address, and then we could register.  And then we will grant you the opportunity to vote during early voting.  Now, if you missed the voter registration deadline, which is once again, Tuesday, October 16th, and you don't leverage same-day registration during the eight days of early voting, from the 25th of October through the 1st of November, then we would provide you a provisional ballot on Election Day.

We would do our due diligence to research, because it could be that you lived in Prince George's County, could be that you registered and maybe you got married or divorced and there's an error on your record.  We always provide - we always give the voter the benefit of the doubt.  We will do extensive research.  And if it happens to be that you are registered to vote and you casted a provisional ballot, then we will make recommendations to our board of directors to either accept or accept in part your provisional ballot.  If you're truly not registered and you showed up on Election Day, November 6th, and you are given a provisional ballot, you will be ready for 2020.  The provisional ballot application doubles as a voter registration application.  Another quick tip is look out for your sample ballot.

If you don't get your sample ballot within, like, two to three weeks, either contact the Board of Elections or go to our website just to make sure that you're registered to vote.  So, if you're listening to this podcast I would highly recommend not to wait until November 7th, which is a day too late, because Election Day is the day before.

David Payne:  Right.  So as you say, no excuses.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  No, no excuses.  Yeah, there's no excuses.

David Payne:  Yeah.

Julie Dina:  How exactly do they determine the polling stations?  And how many polling places are there in the county?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  So there are, give or take, about 235.  They change, sometimes we consolidated precincts, sometimes we add precincts.  We keep tabs on the population growth of the county.  We look at our, we call it MD Voters, which is our voter registration database.  Everything is based off of that, the allocation of election judges, the allocations or creation or consolidation of precincts.  Obviously, if you look at Silver Spring, 50% of our voters live in the Silver Spring area.  So if you would look at a precinct map you'll see over close to 75 to 80 precincts in the Sliver Spring area.  If you go to Poolesville, there's two precincts.  So it's based on population, and based on our voter registration database.  So we have about 660,000 registered voters, it's always growing daily.  And so after an election we will tweak, if needed.

If a precinct grows too big, for example, let's say they have 3,500 voters, then we may consider identifying another facility within the neighborhood, and even splitting that.  But there's like an extensive research, vetting, we have opportunities for the community to give us recommendations and to share their concerns.  We don't anything on the fly.

Julie Dina:  Okay.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  That's not how we roll.

Julie Dina:  So you just don't say [CROSSTALK] [00:26:57].

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  No, you vote here now [CROSSTALK] [00:27:01] we don't operate like that.

Julie Dina:  Okay.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  We don't want to disenfranchise voters.  We want to facilitate their right to vote.  And sometimes schools close, they open, they do a refresh, like some libraries do refreshes.

Julie Dina:  Yes.

David Payne:  Yeah.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Or they'll build a new facility.  And so we always add.  And we may temporary relocate voters to a different location.  And we understand that sometimes the voters do get upset with us, but ultimately our goal is not to upset you.  Our goal is to protect you, and your right to vote.  So I tell voters to be patient with us, you know thank - and there's one thing I always want to tell individuals, you need to thank our volunteers, our election judges.  After an election all the campaigns are like, "Woo".   Either they're sobbing in a corner or elated and popping champagne.  But don't forget our volunteers; don't forget our team members, the staff.  Because - and I'm going to take the liberty of saying that without our volunteers and without the staff this party wouldn't take place.

David Payne:  Right.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  So when you go and vote, say thank you to our election judge.  If you see a young lad or a young lady volunteering at the pools handing out I Voted stickers, say thank you, tell them how proud you are.  That little extra smile, you know.  We don't want to see frowns; we want to see your teeth, okay.  And thank us, because at the end of the day we're there to serve.

David Payne:  What's the typical voter turnout that you may expect for a midterm election?  And presumably you're anticipating a large turnout or hoping for a large turnout.  Is there sort of a benchmark figure that would be acceptable for you?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  100% is acceptable, nothing less; nothing less.  We always aim for 100, it could be 60%.  It all depends on the climate, it depends what's going on in the nation, depends what's going on local politics.

David Payne:  The weather even, I suppose.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Even the weather.  Yes, even the weather.  And it's interesting because even when I compare what we have, and we're blessed what we have now.  And I compare it, for example, to El Salvador, they don't have provisional balloting, but their voter turnout is higher.

David Payne:  Uh-huh.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  It's interesting.  And so we always aim for 100, let's say we get 60%-70%.  Obviously, if we get 70% we're still missing 30% of the electorate.  But we try to target those 30%.  We have those famous super voters, and they will come regardless if there's a hurricane coming, they will show up.  And that's great.

David Payne:  Yeah.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  So, for those individuals that historically vote every year, we love you.  Can you help us identify someone who doesn't vote every other year and bring them with you, because then you're an extension of us, and that would be help us tremendously, because at the end of the day we have a finite budget, we all pay taxes, and we want to leverage that accordingly.  So please help us.

David Payne:  Can you give us suggestions as to where someone can find out about candidates for smaller offices, let's say, a school board or city council?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  So, we collaborate with a lot of organizations.  The League of Women Voters, whether it's Maryland or Montgomery County or your particular county, does incredible work.  Also, they have the voter's guide that goes out.  That's a good publication that you could get at your neighborhood libraries.  I believe they deliver them to all their branches.

David Payne:  They do, uh-huh.  Yeah.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  You know, in the advent of internet, Google it.  [CROSSTALK] [00:30:45] tell people, "Google it."  And if you don't know how to Google it, find someone who does.  Everything is online nowadays.  I know sometimes the candidates, I know they will mail out the mailings, the research seen, so read that information they send.  We will not - all we will provide in our sample ballot is the candidate's name and the contest for which he or she is running for.  Other than that, the League, a lot of nonprofit organizations, there's a multitude of forums - forums that will take place for the different contests, keep your eye out on those.  I say go to those forums and ask your questions, and the local newspapers and print.  Print or online, or TV, but do your due diligence, get your sample ballot, do your research, markup your sample ballot; vote.

David Payne:  Be informed.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Please, yes.  Yes, please.  Because it makes early voting and Election Day go much smoother when you know how you're going to vote your ballot, as opposed to taking 69,000 leaflets, and the voter's guide, and the posts.  And then the voter is like, "Why do I have all that paper laid out on them and on that ballot booth?"  Do your homework beforehand; I'm telling you ahead of time.  So you got about two months, so get cracking.

Julie Dina:  It's funny we talked about googling it earlier, but I was going to ask you, how has technology helped to improve voting procedures and efficiency, and just voting in general?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  So, right now, we're working with the Department of Technology Services to create geo-fencing or geo-tagging.  And hopefully, I'm crossing my fingers, but what would happen is as you go near an early voting center you get a little tag, a notification that you're close to the Potomac Community Rec Center.  It'll have information, it'll have directions; it's pretty neat.  And the reason I wanted that geo-tag capability is also when we do outreach into the community.  We're going to visit all the high schools or when we come to the libraries, we could geo-fence the Rockville Library, and everyone who's walking around the Rockville Library could say, "Oh, people are - I could register at the Rockville - there's someone from the Board of Elections."

Those are kind of the things.  And it's something that I was dying, I wanted to do since, actually 2014, but the technology wasn't there yet.  And it was expensive back then.  Now it's cheaper.  That's one of the kind of things we want to implement with the advent of technology.  We're starting to QR code everything because that's the language of millennials.  A bookmark, you know, and it works for the libraries.  But for us when you go to a student and you give him a bookmark with information they look at it like, "Okay, thank you.  Oh, that's to my grandmother."  And it's funny because, "Okay, I guess this is not going to work."  But they love QR codes because they'll just scan the QR code and they could register the vote, they could sign up to be an election judge, they could get information; so QR coding is great.  It's simple, it's inexpensive.

And texting, you know, texting.  And we're starting to use more social media.  That's another - you know, it's been around for a while, but I think more agencies are using social media.  But it looks easy, but it does take time.  And so - but I think those are the three tips, I would say.  Geo-fencing and QR coding are two good quick ways to leverage technology in favor of promoting or selling your services.

David Payne:  Sticking with technology, the hacking of elections is a very topical subject.  Can you tell us what hacking elections actually means, and also what procedures the Board of Elections has to ensure the protection of our voting process?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  So, there's a lot of internal mechanisms in which we implement as guided by the State Board of Elections, especially when you do the VPN network for early voting we don't share Wi-Fi, we don't upload results on election night over the internet.  I mean, we literally drive everything.  I think individuals, because of the age of the internet, everyone's an expert.  And so I tell individuals, at least in Maryland and Montgomery County, it's secure, okay.  I think what we need to focus is encouraging your neighbors to vote, marking up your sample ballot, ensuring that your voter registration is current.  Even if you are moving within the same building, so let's say you live in apartment 101, you marry; you have two kids, now you move into apartment 201 in the same facility, that's a new address for us.

So make sure everything is current.  And make sure you make a cognizant decision, am I voting by mail during eight days of early voting or on Election Day.  The hacking, security; we got that covered.  Trust me, we got that covered.

Julie Dina:  Cool.

David Payne:  Sounds good.

Julie Dina:  So do you have any tips for those who bring their kids to the polls, and also for, and I can tell there's got to be crazy things or crazy situations or stories that you can actually share with us.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Yeah.  So with children, if your child is 12 and older and you bring him to the polls, we will request that they fill out a voter assistance form, because the thought process is that individual could entire the voter to change their decision who to vote for, okay, because they're 12, and kids are very intelligent, very sophisticated thinkers.  Having said that, for those families with children grade six to 12 in Montgomery County, we welcome them to work as future vote ambassadors on Election Day.  All the information is on our website, 777vote.org, and the upper-right-hand corner, it says future vote, or midway on a page on the left-hand side it says Future Vote, has all the FAQs on how to register your child, there's a training that's mandatory, so one-hour training session in middle October.  They'll work in their precinct; they earn SSL credits that they need.

And then once they hit 16, we would love for them to serve as election judge.  And they could earn up to $210.  But this is also for our voters.  So if you're an adult and you have some extra time and you want to serve as an election judge, go to our website, signup, serve, and we will call you every other year to see if you're available.  Now, interesting story, I have a lot of stories.  Let me see, we'll try to find a PG story - rated G story.  So this was the funniest.  And so we had one of our future vote ambassadors, sixth grader, big-eyed 11-year-old, and we happened to forget to pack the power chord for one of our voting system, this was several years ago.  So the chief judge was ecstatic, "Oh my god, what are we going to do?  We need a power chord, we're missing one.  We have to call the office."  So they called the hotline, you know, our helpdesk.  We said we'll deliver the power chord tomorrow morning, it's okay, there's a battery pack, you're fine.

So there was this 11-year-old and he said, "Oh, let me look at the equipment."  And they're not supposed to touch the equipment.  He's like, "No, I'm not touching; I just want to look at it."  And he told the chief judge, "Can I call my dad."  He's like, "Okay."  He's like, "Dad, go to my PlayStation and go to my DVD, and take the power chord off and bring it to me now."  So then the dad's like running up the street, goes to the precinct, and it fit.  It worked.  And so now the chief judge could sleep at night, because the meeting was on Monday night.  And then he woke up early, showed up at the polls at 6:00 AM to open the doors at 7:00.  And the power cord, it worked.  And then the funny thing is after the student did their four-hour shift in the morning he came back in the evening, knocked at the window of the school.  And the judge is like, "Are you okay, what's wrong?  Did you forget something?"  "Yes, I forgot my power chord."  And he took his power chord back from his PlayStation.  So that's a funny story.

Julie Dina:  Wow, that's really cute.

David Payne:  We're ending on a happy note.  Dr. Z, we always close our podcast by asking our guests to tell us about a book they are reading or recently enjoyed.  So, something other than League of Women Voters election guide, perhaps.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Uh, COMAR and the Maryland election law book, unfortunately that's what I read, unfortunately for now.  You know, finding time to read, and with my sons, that's - every year I say I'm going to read this book.  I have a book called, Path to Power.

David Payne:  Uh-huh.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  It's the autobiography of Lyndon B.  Johnson.  I owe the library a lot of money.

Julie Dina:  Take note.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  I've had that book since 2004.  And I always have to restart it because I forget what I read three years before.  But yes, but that's one of my list of things to do.  So I won't lie.  I don't read much lately.  But right now what's on my desk are the COMAR and Maryland election law.

David Payne:  Well, thank you.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  You're welcome.

Julie Dina:  I've got to say, Dr. Z, it's been very enlightening.  Thank you so much for joining us on this particular program.

Let's keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.  Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast on the Apple Podcasts App, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.  Also, please review and rate us on Apple Podcasts.  We'll love to know what you think.  Thank you once again for listening for our conversation today, and see you next time.

[Audio Ends]

Oct 9, 2018

Summary: Dr. Gilberto Zelaya, Outreach Coordinator at the Montgomery County Board of Elections, joins us to discuss how elections are organized in Montgomery County and the Board's ongoing efforts to empower voters to participate in elections.

Guest: Dr. Gilberto Zelaya, AKA Dr. Z, the Outreach Coordinator at the Montgomery County Board of Elections. 

Hosts: Julie Dina and David Payne

What Our Guest Is Reading:  The Path to Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson) by Robert A. Caro. The Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR)

Items of Interest Mentioned During this Episode:

Early Voting for the 2018 General Election: Thursday, October 25, 2018 through Thursday, November 1, 2018. 

Election Day for the 2018 General Election: Tuesday, November 6, 2018. Find your polling place

The Future Vote: An initiative to increase youth civic participation and promoting civic duty, community involvement, and recognition of the importance of preserving participatory democracy.   

League of Women Voters, Montgomery County: A nonpartisan political organization that encourages informed civic engagement. 

Maryland State Board of Elections

Montgomery County Board of Elections

Read the transcript

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