Yesterday I reached a milestone in my family history research. I added the 10,000th person to my family tree on Ancestry.com. That number represents over twenty years of research time invested in this hobby but, I enjoyed every bit of it and I am not done yet.
This seems like a good time to answer a question that I get asked from time to time and to say something about my research philosophy.
Obviously, with 10,000 people in my tree, they can not all be my direct ancestors. That brings up the question:
"Why do you include so many distant relatives in your tree?"
Before I get into the reasons, I should say that everyone in my tree is connected somehow. There are no isolated branches or individuals, they all tie together no matter how remotely.
For example, The last person I entered (Kenneth D. Hayward) is the husband of my 2cd cousin 1x removed. That is a little distant and many family historians would not include him in their tree - but I did. Not only that but, if I find information about Kenneth's parents and siblings I will probably include that too. Those people are not directly related to me (as far as I know) but they are connected.
I have four main reasons for including so much of my extended family.
First: I hope the research I do will help other people searching for their ancestry. Using the example of the Hayward family, someone searching that line, now or in the future, might find them in my tree and learn something new to them. When I have information available to me, it just seems like a waste not to record it.
Second: I am able to connect to other family historians because they see names from my tree and reach out to me with additional information or corrections. Ancestry helps with that by showing me other people researching the same families and allowing us to contact each other.
Third: It is surprising how often extended family turns out to be connected in multiple ways. In the past, more people lived in small towns. I often see multiple generations of marriages between the same families because that is who they lived close to and knew. I have written more about this "cluster genealogy" in another post at wingingitblog.com/cluster-genealogy-can-help-grow-your-family-tree/.
Fourth: Extending the branches in my family tree help me correct errors. I know my genealogy has errors in it. I wrote more about that at wingingitblog.com/my-genealogy-is-wrong/. To go back to Kenneth Hayward, he married the granddaughter of my great-great aunt (my great grandfather's sister). If I find discrepancies between previous research on that line and what I find on the Hayward line I can possible resolve the differences and correct my data.
So, 10,000 down and many more to come. There are still a lot of ancestors to find. I will continue doing genealogy for as long as I am able!
Researching your family tree requires you to be a bit of a detective. Sometimes the branch you are following is clear and easy to follow. Other times, you gather every clue you can find and still can't make the breakthrough that answers your genealogical questions. Genealogists call those seemingly dead ends "brick walls" and we all reach them at some point in our research.
Sometimes you just get lucky and the solution to a brick wall turns up out of nowhere. As more and more records are digitized and made available online, the record we need to solve a puzzle can turn up at any time. Often though, family mysteries require sifting through documents that, at first, don't seem to be directly related to the question at hand but turn out to be key to the solution.
One of my great-great-great grandmothers was named Lucina Smith. I know a lot about her but, I could never find out her parents names. If I look at Lucina's entry in other family trees on Ancestry.com, most don't list her parents at all. The ones that do name them don't agree with each other. I see Enos Smith and Lucina Chapin, George Smith and Lucena or Lucina Durfee and Christopher Smith and Polly Randall. Which set of parents, if any of them, is right?
This is a good place to make a note about using other peoples family trees as a source. As this example shows, you should never just accept anther persons research without verifying it for yourself with other sources. These trees are a good place to find hints to use as a starting point but not as proof of facts about a person.
To get my answer, I needed to go back to what I knew about Lucina and search for sources that I hadn't seen before. Just searching for the name Smith wouldn't get me anywhere. There are just too many Smiths. I had to search specific locations and for related people.
I knew that Lucina married Charles Weller and, from census records, that she was born in New York about 1826. Charles and Lucina had moved from New York to Pennsylvania and then on to Wisconsin. They had five children all born in Pennsylvania. The 1870 and 1880 censuses showed them living in the village of Ellensboro, Wisconsin. Charles Weller died there in 1884.
After Charles died I lost track of Lucina and I couldn't find her on any other census. So, I put the search for her parents aside for a while and began researching her children. When I did that though, Lucina herself turned up again.
I learned that her daughter Rosalia married a man named George Countant. On the 1900 census, I found George and Rosalia living in Ossining, Westchester, New York with their daughter Pearl. Also in the household was an older woman listed as Lucina Miller. I immediately suspected that this was a transcription error. A quick look at the actual record revealed that this was indeed Lucina Weller - NOT Lucina Miller.
Now I knew Lucina had gone back to her birth state of New York after the death of her husband Charles but I found no further records naming her. That is where my search remained for several years.
Just recently though, I found a new record from the 1905 New York state census that listed a Lucina Weller living in the home of William and Emma D. Sutton and their children. Her relationship was listed as "aunt."
Was this my Lucina or just a coincidence of names? If this was my 3rd great-grandmother, then William must be her nephew or Emma was her niece. If I could find a Smith ancestry for one of them I just might find Lucina's parents.
Finding out which of the Sutton's she was related to turned out to be easier than I expected.
I didn't find birth or marriage records for William or Emma but I did find a marriage record one for their daughter Tena. That record told me that the brides parents were William Sutton and Emma Smith. Now I was almost positive that I had the right Lucina Weller!
From the information I had gathered so far, I could build a family tree that looked like this:
Since I was convinced that Emma's father was Lucina's brother, if I could learn the names of the two Smith men I would also learn the name of Lucina's father. As it turned out, finding the name of Emma's father took some serious detective work!
I would have liked to have found a birth or marriage record naming Emma and her parents but, so far, I have not found one. I did find many census records for Emma Smith and Emma Sutton living in or near Stockton, New York. Comparing these and using other ancestry family trees as hints, I eventually concluded that Emma was the daughter of David Montgomery Smith and Amorillus (or Amorillis) Ames. The 1870 census raised some questions. On that a 15 year old Emma Smith was living in the household of Harvey and Amorillus Solomon. Was David dead by then and Harvey was a step-father?
Once I had settled on David Montgomery as Emma's father's name, I hit the jackpot. The Stockton entries in the New York Town Clerk's Register of Men Who Served in the Civil War included David Montgomery Smith and two of his brothers. All three men had enlisted in the Union Army in August of 1862. Sadly, that fall, David and his brother William both died of disease while encamped at Suffolk, Virginia.
The register gave me David's date and place of birth and his parents names. He was the son of Christopher Smith and Polly Randall. His death date of Nov. 14, 1862 also explained why his wife was remarried by the time of the 1870 census.
Click the image to see it full size.
There I had it! After years of thinking I would never find the names of Lucina Smith's parents, I had finally knew them. Like most things in genealogy, I can't be absolutely positive that this info is correct but I would certainly rate it as "Highly Probably" to "Almost Certain."
Revisit your family tree's brick walls from time to time. New information just might help you solve a mystery!
Now if I could just find the names of her husband Charles Weller's parents...
I mentioned in the last post that I would be getting rid of my other web sites. My on;y problem with that is that I think there is some good stuff on those sites and I hate to just let it go away.
As a solution, I am going to import my blog posts from the Great Genealogy Blog into this one. The genealogy site will be deleted to avoid duplicate content. Then I will review each of them and keep the ones I like the best. You will be able to see them by sorting for the category Genealogy.
I will also go through my 3D printing blog and possibly add some posts from there.
Before I retired, I thought retirement would mean I had more time to pursue my own projects. In some ways that is true. I can now spend my time doing what I want to not what a "boss" tells me to. Still, I never have enough time to do everything I want to do.
This blog is a good example. I have had the best intentions about keeping it up and making regular entries. Obviously, that hasn't worked out for me. A big part of the reason is that I have five web sites to maintain. What that means for me is that none of them get the attention they deserve.
Because I think Winging It is the most important of my web sites, I am going to concentrate on this one and eliminate the rest of them.
As the other sites expire, I will not be renewing the domain registration on them. For my genealogy and 3d printing sites, I will post my activities in those hobbies on this blog. I will also keep my Facebook pages devoted to those hobbies.
My marketing web sites will just go away. I am retired after all and I don't choose to keep promoting those sites.
So, here is a brief report on what I have been up to lately. Sort of a "how I spent my summer" report.
Our Grandson Max still stays with us two days a week and we love having him visit. We had several outings to carnivals and events with him this summer. He is four years old now and really keeps us going when he is here!
In late June and early July, we took a road trip to Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana. We were celebrating our 25th Wedding Anniversary with this get-away.
From Door County, we drove to Manitowoc, Wisconsin to catch the SS Badger car ferry across Lake Michigan. In the more than twenty five years we have been going to Michigan, we had never gone by ferry so we wanted this experience. It is a four hour trip but a relaxing way to travel. We arrived in Ludington, Michigan in the evening and spent one night there.
The next morning we drove north to Arcadia and checked into the Pleasant Valley Resort Motel. This place is a family tradition. Georgia stayed there several times as a child and her and I stay there every time we go to the area. It was our base for the next few days.
From Arcadia, we made day trips to Glen Lake, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Maple City (where Georgia's family is from), and generally exploring the area. On one rainy day we even visited a casino.
The next day we went to the flea market for a day of shopping and lunch. That night we had dinner at the Blue Gate Restaurant.
The next day was spent shopping in downtown Shipshewana and visiting some of the countryside. We had dinner at a local spot a friend recommended.
That night, we both got ill with what we assumed was food poisoning. In the morning, Georgia was feeling better but I was still pretty sick. We just stayed in the hotel all day while Georgia did some laundry from the trip. That night, Georgia was feeling sick again too.
Out last destination of the trip was going to be Fort Wayne to do some genealogy research at the Allen County Library. Since we were both still sick, we debated about going there or going back home. In the end, we decided to go to Fort Wayne since it was a short drive. If we felt better we would go on with the research. If we didn't feel good, we could rest in the hotel. We were both sure we would be better soon.
We made a stop at the library but Georgia was getting pretty sick again and I was still feeling bad myself. We called the hotel and asked if we could check in early. They said it was OK so we did that.
The next morning, I was still feeling a little bad but I was OK to drive home. Georgia was still pretty sick. That drive back to Wauconda seemed like it would never end!
The day after we returned, I was doing a lot better but Georgia wasn't. Her doctor told her she should go to the emergency room so we went. She ended up being admitted to the hospital and was there for almost two weeks.
To top it all off, we learned that our credit card number had been stolen and several thousand dollars charged to it. MasterCard caught the fraud and, in the end, we didn't have to pay any of the charges. Still, it took almost two months to the investigation completed and a new card issued.
So, what started out as a great trip ended up a with a horrible last couple of days.
My Grandmother's maiden name was Dearhamer and this summer, the Dearhamer family held a reunion in Bruce, Wisconsin. Georgia and I just had to go up there for it.
The reunion was held at Trails End Youth Camp in Bruce and was very well attended. It was great to see so many aunts, uncles and cousins gathered together.
We were only able to stay in Bruce for a couple days but it was a very nice visit.
Besides these special events, we have made a couple short trips to Wisconsin Dells over the summer and one other trip to Michigan.
Georgia is on a planning committee for her 50th high school reunion which is coming up next year. We made the trip to Michigan so she could attend a committee meeting in person. For most of them, she is on a net meeting.
We took a couple extra days while we were there so we could visit family and friends in the area.
Now that summer is over, we are starting to make our fall and winter plans. I am going to try to stay up to date with this blog. Eliminating my other sites will be a big help I am sure.
Here is an easy way to highlight important areas of a document image. Just like using a highlighter pen on a paper document, this method will call attention to the specific information you want to emphasis.
I am using the free image editor called GIMP for this example but the process should be very similar in any editor that allows filling of selections.
Here is the jpeg document after I downloaded it from Ancestry.com and cropped it to show only one page.
I want to save this to my family tree but, before I do, I am going to highlite just the 2 names I am interested in – Mace R Clough and W.F. Clough.
To do that, I open the jpg file in GIMP. I set the image mode to RGB if it isn’t already. In this case it was grayscale when I downloaded it so I had to make the change.
Now zoom in enough to make it easy to select just the names I want to highlight.Then I use the rectangular selection tool and select the two names I want.
Next, I select the bucket fill tool and adjust the setting to give me a transparent light green color. I find that color works well but you can choose one you like. Mode is normal. The opacity is set to 50%. I am using foreground color and will fill entire selection.
Now I just fill click in the selection box to fill it with color and unselect all (in GIMP it’s select none). Everything looks good so I save the document under a new name like Kansas_census_1859_highlighted.jpg and I am done.
Play around with this technique. You can use different colors to distinguish different facts, highlight people in photos (probably not in green!) and more.
I hope you found this quick tip helpful. You comments are always very welcome.
Genealogists photograph tombstones to document the birth, death and burial information of their ancestors. This post will give you some tips on how to get the best possible results when taking those important pictures.
Your first challenge might well be just getting to the cemetery. Hopefully you have an obituary or burial record for your ancestor that gives the name of the cemetery. Depending on how old the record is, finding that cemetery can be very easy or impossible. There are some tricks that can help you.
Start with an Internet search for the cemetery name. Try searching the major mapping sites as well as regular search engines. If you don’t find it by name, or if you don’t know the name, try just searching for “cemeteries” in the town and county where the person last lived. The cemetery could have changed names but the new name might be obvious if you look at a graveyard list.
Another good map service is The US Geological Survey. They have maps dating back to the 1880’s online. You might find that old cemetery there.
If you can’t locate the cemetery online, see if you can find the name of the agencies that administer cemeteries in the town and county of interest. It might be a sexton offices or a government agencies. Call any numbers you can find and ask about the cemetery. Try calling the county clerk’s office. Someone there can probably point to the right contact (or maybe even know the location themselves).
Call town and county historical and genealogical societies. These might be your best source of information about old or little know burial grounds.
Now that you know how to get to the cemetery, you have to locate the grave site. In small cemeteries you can just walk the rows but, for cemeteries with thousands of graves spread over many acres of land that isn’t practical. Use what you learned during your cemetery search to help you. Visit the cemetery administration office or sexton’s office. They should have maps or lists of grave sites in that cemetery. In some cases, these lists have even been posted on the Internet.
Call or visit historical and genealogy societies in the area. Many societies have done cataloging projects for local cemeteries. These can be a real boon to researchers.
You can also try genealogy forums. Another family researcher might have visited the grave and can help you find it.
If you can’t find the grave location ahead of time, go ahead and visit the cemetery anyway. You might find a map or burial list posted somewhere on the grounds. I have seen them on maintenance buildings , the backs of cemetery signs and even on the walls of outhouses. If any grounds keepers are working, ask them for help. No one knows the cemetery better than they do. If all else fails, you will be back to walking the rows of graves.
Prepare the stone for the photograph by cleaning up any trash laying nearby. Use scissors or shears to trim any grass or weeds that might be covering the stone. Do not cut any trees, bushes or decorative plantings without permission. You can carefully hold or tie them back (or have an assistant hold them) when you take the photo.
DO NOT clean the stone itself unless you know exactly what you are doing and have permission. Too many tombstones have been worn or damaged by well meaning people who tried to clean off dirt, moss or lichens. It is far better to get the best picture you can with the stone as it is than to risk any damage. At the most, spray on a little water and very gently wipe the stone with your hand. Besides, those imperfections add character.
If the day is bright and nothing obscures the stone, you can probably take your photo hand held. In most cases though, you will get much better results with your camera on a tripod. Set it up, focus on the stone and carefully examine the scene in the viewfinder or on the digital cameras screen. You can also take a trial shot with your digital camera and examine it on the screen. Many cameras will let you zoom in when viewing photos.
Look for shadows from the camera , tripod and photographer. If you are using a zoom lens or can changes lenses, move the tripod back and zoom in until the shadows no longer fall on the stone. Another trick is to have a helper shade the whole stone with a jacket, your reflector or with their own body.
Is the inscription clear? If bright sunlight is washing out contrast, shade the stone as above. Use a reflector to light the stone from an angle so shadows in the grooves of the inscription letters make them stand out. Spray the stone with water and let it dry for a minute or so. The water in the grooves should dry slower than that on the surface making the letters stand out. Don’t use chalk, paint or anything else to enhance the engraving. Chemicals in anything you add can cause permanent damage to the stone.
Take several photographs with different lighting and, if your camera supports it, different exposure settings. You can change the camera angle slightly but don’t get too far off straight on. Don’t skimp on the number of pictures you take. It is much easier to do it now than to come back again to re-shoot.
Dress properly for your cemetery visit. Wear comfortable shoes and apply sunscreen. Carry bug spray just in case. Long pants will help protect from prickly weeds and bugs as well as saving your knees when you kneel down.
Don’t just photograph the gravestones. Take a few photos of the cemetery itself. Get pictures of signs, any maps and wide shots of the burial ground.
You can make a good reflector by gluing aluminum foil to the back of a 2 foot square piece of white poster board. Try the white and shiny sides to see which works best in each situation.
Don’t clean or alter any gravestone without permission and expert advice.
Digital cameras are a basic tool for family historians. Those pictures of family members, their homes, tombstones, etc. are critical additions to our data. There are a few uses for digital cameras that might not be as obvious as obvious though. Before I get to uses though, here some features that are important in a digital camera that will be used for genealogy research.
First, the camera should have a macro setting that will allow you to focus closely. You want one that is able to focus to under two inches, the closer it will focus the better.
Second, you want a camera that will allow you to turn off automatic exposure and set it manually. That way, when you can take a photo and look at it on the camera screen, if it is too dark or too light, you can adjust the exposure to get the image you want. If you don’t want to learn to set your exposure manually (it really isn’t hard) at least get a camera that will let you dial in some exposure compensation to correct for bad lighting. This is particularly important when using the close-up feature.
Third, you want to be able to turn the automatic flash off. Most digital cameras will allow you to do that but make sure your does and that you know how to disable flash.
Finally, look for a camera with built in image stabilization. It is a tremendous help in situation where you can are not able to use a tripod or other support.
The good news is that you can get all these feature in a fairly inexpensive digital camera.You can find good digital cameras that are small enough to carry in a pocket. If you keep one with you whenever you are doing genealogy research, you will find many uses for it.
One way is to take photos of your ancestors possessions. Get pictures of your great grandfather’s pocket watch and your grandmothers wedding ring. Use the macro setting to get good closeups. Preview the photo on the screen and adjust the exposure to get a clear image. If you get glare off shiny objects, turn off the flash and shade the object with your hand or a piece of paper. If the owner of the heirloom is still living, also get pictures of them holding or wearing it.
Your digital camera will make a good substitute for a copier or scanner. When you are at the library, courthouse, in a family members home or other research locations, use your camera to take pictures of records, photos and book pages. You should make use of manual exposure in this application. In most situations, you should turn also off the flash. Using flash is irritating to others around you and, more importantly, can even be harmful to the paper of the documents you are photographing. With flash off, take the picture and preview it on the screen. If the it is too dark or too light, manually adjust the exposure and try again. Keep adjusting until you get a good image.
If the room you are in as too dimly lit to give you a good image without flash, there are some things you can do. If at all possible, carry a small tabletop tripod with you and use it to steady the camera. That will allow for very long exposures without any blurring due to camera movement. There are also inexpensive copy stands available for small cameras.
If you don’t have a tripod with you or if you can’t use it where you are, try resting the camera on a chair back or table edge to steady it. If you can, move to a brighter area of the room and try again.
Taking dim lighting to an extreme, I have even gotten good results using a digital camera to copy images off microfilm viewers. I use a flexible tripod that I can wrap around a chair or, steady the camera by bracing my arms against the sides of the viewer. With image stabilization, that works surprisingly well.
Most of today’s smartphones have very capable digital cameras in them and, by downloading specialized apps, you can make them even better research tools. Apps like Office Lens by Microsoft and Genius Scan from Grizzly Labs are very helpful scanning aids. There are many, many photo editing apps that can help make your images look better. Photoshop Express from Adobe is a good. A search of the iTunes Store if you have an Apple phone or the Google Play Store for Android devices will turn up apps for whatever problem you are trying to solve.
There are also many inexpensive products that will make you camera phone more useful. A tripod adapter to use it on a standard tripod is cheap and worthwhile. There are also copy stands made just for smartphones.
Every generation of smartphone seems to bring better cameras so do give yours a try during your research.
Regardless of whether you use a camera or phone, spend some time practicing at home before your research trip. You want to be comfortable using it before you find that one-of-a-kind record that you absolutely must have a good image of.
Find A Grave is an easy to use online tool for finding the burial places of family, friends, and”‘famous” people. With over 120 million grave records already online, it is an invaluable resource for genealogists and family historians.
Find A Grave memorials often contain much more than just death and burial data. You may find photos, biographies, obituaries and more. You might also be able to connect with others researching the same families that you are. Visitors can leave “virtual flowers” and notes on the memorials they visit. Those notes usually include contact information for the poster.
Find a Grave is completely free. Anyone can search the data base and see the memorials. To use all the features of the site though, you will need to register. As a member you can add names to the database, leave virtual flowers, and upload photos. Membership is also free but Find a Grave requires it for certain feature so they can know who is adding data to the site.
Ancestry.com searches will often include an entry for the “The Find a Grave Index“. I recommend that you click on the icon that says “Go to website” to find out what else is on the actual website. You will often find photos, memorials, and more.
For example, here is the index entry for Seth Burgess Wing:
and here is the memorial page on Find a Grave:
As you can see, you might be missing a lot if you don’t visit the actual page.
If you go directly to Find a Grave to do your search, you will see the home page is divided into two sections. On the left, you can search or browse for famous people. The right side is the one you will use for most of your genealogy research. Typically you will be searching for a grave record or searching for a cemetery.
If you know where your ancestors are buried, you can search by cemetery name and then search that cemetery for interments. That cuts down on the number of false hits you might get just searching for a name, especially a common one. You can also use “Search for a Cemetery” to get a map if you want to visit the grave yard.
For the most part though, you will probably be using the “Search xxx Million Graves Records” (the number keeps going up as more records are added). Clicking that link will bring up an short, easy to use search form. Enter as much information as you can to limit the search.
It is that easy to locate your ancestor’s graves. Copy the genealogical information you need from the page and don’t forget to cite Find a Grave as your source.
Now that you have found an ancestor’s grave, practice good cluster genealogy by clicking the cemetery name in the memorial. Once on the cemetery page, click all interments. There may well be other members of the same or related families buried in the same cemetery.
Please give back to this great free family history resource. If you have photos of the person or the gravestone or is you can add details to the memorial page, please contribute. If you don’t find an entry for an ancestor but you know the burial information, please add a memorial page. The site only grows when users contribute.
It is widely reported that my 3rd great-grandfather, Peter Vickers, was baptized 13 June 1788 at Bunbury, Cheshire, England. He was the son of Peter Vickers and Hanna Lowe. In 1812, Peter married Mary Jones and they had daughters Elizabeth, Mary and Harriot.
Peter immigrated to the United States sometime before 1840 when he was listed on the census living in Pleasant Valley, New York.
In 1850 he was living in the household of his daughter Elizabeth and her husband John Turner. Then, in 1860, he was enumerated in the household of his son-in-law James Moore who had married Peter’s daughter Mary.
Peter died at Scott, Columbia County, Wisconsin 13 November 1862.
All of this seems to be very well know and is recorded in many family trees an Ancestry.com. Like so many other researchers, I just accepted Peter’s history as fact – until it suddenly hit me that it is was probably wrong.
I have, reluctantly, come to the conclusion that Peter Vickers, immigrant to the United States and father of Elizabeth (Turner) and Mary (Chandler)(Moore), is not the same person who was born in Bunbury, Cheshire, England; son of Peter Vickers and Hannah Lowe.
The 1851, 1861 and 1871 UK censuses all list a Peter Vickers born in Bunbury but then living in Preston, Sussex, England. This Peter’s age was slightly different on each of these censuses but a 1788 birth date seems reasonable. His birth place is given as Bunbury on every one of these records.
A marriage record for Peter Vickers and Mary Jones listed Peter’s occupation as “gunsmith” just as do the 1861 and 1871 census records.
Since the Peter Vickers who immigrated to the US was living here at the time of all those UK censuses, it seems clear that we are looking at two different Peter Vickers. While it is possible that both were born in Banbury around 1788, that is pretty unlikely. They certainly didn’t have the same parents.
Therefore, I have to conclude from this that the Peter Vickers born 1788 in Bunbury did not immigrate to the US and is not the Peter Vickers who was listed on the 1850 and 1860 US censuses and was not the father of Mary Vickers Chandler Moore or Elizabeth Vickers Turner. At the very least, it means the immigrant Peter’s origins in England must be reexamined.
Since I arrived at that conclusion, I have changed my own tree on Ancestry to make Peter’s birthplace, his parents and his wife all unknown and removed the daughter Harriot. I also contacted several other researchers who still have the questionable information in their genealogies and let them know why I question it. Maybe it shouldn’t surprise me, but none of them have made the change. So this highly questionable ancestry keeps being perpetuated.
Do you have people in your family tree that might not belong? Please, don’t get so locked into what everyone believes that you can’t consider an alternative. Examine everything!
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