Saturday, December 29, 2007

Lost - Now Found

This year I decided to research the lineage of our sons-in-law for their birthday presents. The effort has been a big hit with them and their extended families.

During their holiday family gatherings, they shared their lineal information and in some cases the wall charts they'd had printed at BYU with their families. Everyone was delighted to see the information. In fact, exploration of the data took over the conversation.

As they poured over the data, different family members found that I had missed some of their lineage. In one case, the chief of a large Indian Nation was missed along with four generations of his descendants. In another case, another Native American branch was missing.

I didn't find this information because it wasn't listed in the resource documents and websites that I use for research. The lineages probably would have remained blank except for the knowledge of different members of each of these families. In one case, a brother said, "Part of this line is missing! Mom, do you remember that old book you have in storage? It lists our Indian ancestry!" They found the book, dusted it off and indeed, the missing lineage was listed on the pages.

The assembled work and charts had fulfilled my expectations. Entire families became interested in their lineage. They quickly organized themselves to continue their ancestral quest. Missing data, known only to one member of the group was 'found' again, even though it had long been in the possession of the family.

Such is the power of organized family research, be it an organization of siblings and parents or an organization of extended cousins. Collective research results always exceed the efforts of any single individual. Collectively viewing the information for accuracy, missing data and 'mining' of the group memory almost always results in brick walls being pulled down and light shining on family members long since lost to history.

If you haven't formed a family organization yet, now is the time to make it your New Years resolution.

An organization will help bring concentrated focus to missing individual and family records. Like concentrated rays from the sun through a magnifying glass, the concentrated efforts of members in the organization will be equally effective in burning through the thrash and clutter that hide the facts. It will expose the gems of truth that have 'always been there awaiting discovery' --- Lost - Now Found.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

From Blocks to Electrons

It is Christmas time again. This week, I thought about the types of toys I received as a child and then compared them to the high tech toys our grandchildren will receive this Christmas. The wee tots blocks and dolls are basically the same design, although most are made in China now, however, the 'big' kids toys are radically different.

As a youngster, I thought a toy train, chemistry set or erector set were the ultimate gifts. They are a huge technological step away from the video games, computers, robots, interactive dolls and electronics books of today.

I can't say that I've not embraced the technological jump though. Embraced it? I revel in it when it is applied to family history research and associated tools. We are lucky to be alive when these tools are available.

My siblings were youngsters during the great depression. I have copies of photos showing
them standing on the front porch of a tiny log cabin in Fort Canyon above Alpine, Utah where my parents moved after my father lost his job in Park City when the mines closed. They are holding handmade cutout cars and trucks and a homemade doll that Santa left for them under the Christmas tree.

The old cabin was so full of cracks and gaps that it didn't make much shade when my folks arrived on the scene. Filling them in with creek mud and straw was first on the agenda , then came patching the many holes in the shingles.

The interior walls were covered with newspapers to help provide a little isolation against the cold. My mother said she covered the walls of the bedroom with newspaper comics so the kids would have something 'cheery' to see.

My father lead a posse tracking the deer poacher who frequented the mountains above the cabin. He carefully lead the posse all over the mountain following faint tracks for hours while my mother canned the meat from the deer so their family would have something to eat that winter. He was a good tracker but never could lead the posse to a capture of the 'villain' for some reason.

When you get your new family history software, computers and recorders this Christmas, make sure you take the time to write and record the stories of your families. Without you capturing them both digitally and on hard copy, they will disappear and be lost from the heritage treasure of your descendants. Include the photos of Christmases and memories past. If you don't record these stories, your children and grandchildren won't have any reference points into the Joy of Christmas that their ancestors enjoyed.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Tombstone Symbols

I looked through photos of ancestors headstones today and again wondered about the meaning of many of the symbols on them.

Some of the themes were obviously favorites of the stone cutters, but
many of the symbols were picked by loved ones. They had meaning to the surviving spouse and children.

What were the meanings? I knew that I'd seen them somewhere over the years and thought I'd written them down. After a several hour search, I found the file on a backup CD in one of my storage cases. I don't know who created the list originally, but thought it would be of interest to you.

The next time you visit the cemetery, see if you can interpret the stories written on the stones.



Ant-Christian industry
Bats (rare)-the underworld
Bee-resurrection. risen Christ; chastity
Birds, flying-flight of the soul back to God
Butterfly-resurrection; Christian metamorphosis
Chrysalis-Christian metamorphosis; resurrection
Cock-vigilance; St. Peter
Descending dove-holy ghost
Dove-peace; innocence; purity (7 doves-holy spirit); messenger of God carrying soul to heaven
Eagle-fierceness; ascension: the heavenly conveyor, national emblem of the United States: the military professional, Civil War casualties
Eagle, winged-St. John, the Evangelist
Fish-Christ; plentifulness
Fox-cruelty; cunning
Hart-the faithful thirsting for God
Lamb-Christ; Redeemer; meekness: sacrifice; child; innocence; most common 19th century child's marker
Lamb with banner-resurrection
Lion-strength; courage; royalty; power; guardian; fallen hero
Lion, winged-St. Mark the Evangelist
Ox, winged-St. Luke the Evangelist
Peacock-immortality; eternity; resurrection; incorruptibility of the flesh
Pelican-feeds young with own blood; redemption through Christ
Phoenix-immortality; baptism
Rooster-the awakening from the fall from grace; repentance
Sheep & goats-Christians and non-believers
Serpent-symbol of death
Snake-sin; Satan; fall of man
Snake, hooped-eternity
Snake with tail in mouth-eternity; unity
Sphinx-lion represents strength and protection; used to guard entrances
Squirrel-Christian forethought; spiritual striving
Stag-same as hart


Angel-messenger between God & man; guide
Angel, flying-rebirth; guardian angel
Angel, trumpeting-call to the resurrection
Angel, weeping-grief
Breasts-the Divine, nourishing fluid of the soul (17th century); the church; the ministry; the nourishment of the soul
Child, sleeping-Victorian death motif
Death's head, winged-mortality
Effigies-the soul
Effigies, crowned-personal reward of righteousness
Effigies, winged-the flight of the soul
Father Time-mortality, the grim reaper
Four Evangelists-Matthew, winged man; Mark, winged lion; Luke, winged ox; John, winged eagle
Hand of God, pointing downward-mortality, sudden death
Hand of God, pointing upward-the reward of the righteous; confirmation of life after death
Hands-devotion, prayer
Handshakes-farewell to earthly existence
Hands clasped-in death as in life, the devotion of these two is not destroyed
Imps-figures, some winged, some not, doing funeral related tasks; mortality
Man, winged-St. Matthew the Evangelist
Trumpeters-heralds of the resurrection
Woman, weeping-mourning; recalls myth of Niobe, whom the gods turned to stone as she wept for her slain children


Fugit hora-"hours are fleeting", "time flies"
IHS-monogram or symbol representing the Greek contraction of "Jesus": sometimes regarded as an abbreviation of the Latin phrase meaning "Jesus, Savior of Men"
INRI-often seen on a banner of Latin cross: "Jesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum". Latin for Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews (John 12:19-22)
Memento mori-"remember death"
Tempus erat-"time is gone"; "time has run out"
XP-Chi Rho-first two Greek letters of the word "Christ"


Alpha & Omega-first and last letters of the Greek alphabet symbolizing the beginning & end of all things, see Revelation 22:13
Anchor-hope, life eternal; may signify seafaring profession
Arch-triumph, victory in death
Ark-church; salvation
Ark of Noah (rare)-refuge, salvation
Armor-protection from evil
Arrow-martyrdom, mortality
Arrow, quiver of-warlike
Banner-victory; triumph
Bells-call to worship
Bibles-resurrection through the scripture; the clergy
Book-Bible; wisdom
Books, stacked-knowledge
Branch, severed-mortality
Bugles-resurrection; the military profession
Candle being snuffed-time, mortality
Candle flame-life
Candlestick-Christ; devotion
Celtic cross-circle on it symbolizes eternity
Circle-eternity; or earth
Clock, (rare)-passage of time, mortality
Clouds-the divine abode
Coats of arms and crests-lineage, status
Column, broken-sorrow; broken life
Columns, doors-heavenly entrance
Crescent moon-Virgin
Cross with rays of rising sun-glory
Cross with winding sheet-descent from cross
Crown-reward of faithful, victory, triumph, glory; righteousness; resurrection
Crown on cross-sovereignty of Christ
Darts-mortality, dart of death
Drapery over anything-sorrow; mourning
Field artillery (rare)-the military profession
Finger-pointing to heaven
Fleur-de-lis-Virgin; Trinity
Portals-passageways to the eternal journey
Portraits-stylized likenesses of the deceased
Pyramid-symbolic of death
Rock-steadfastness of Christ; stability
Rosary-devotion to Mary
Scales-weighing of souls; justice
Scroll-the law; Scriptures
Scythe-time, the divine harvest
Shell-pilgrimage: baptism of Christ
Shell, scallop-pilgrim; pilgrim's journey; resurrection
Ship-the Church
Ships' profiles-the seafaring profession
Shrine-wisdom; knowledge
Skeletons-mortality, Death
Skull-death; sin
Skull, winged-flight of the soul from mortal man
Skulls and crossbones-mortality
Star-birth-life; Christ
Star, five pointed-Star of Bethlehem; star of Jacob; divine guidance and protection
Star, six pointed-the Father, Creation, heavenly wisdom
Sun-God or Son
Sun, setting-death
Sun, rising-resurrection; renewed life
Suns, moons and stars-the reward of the resurrection
Sword-martyrdom; courage; warfare
Swords, crossed-high ranking military person
Three points, three leaves, three of any thing-Trinity
Torch-zeal; enlightenment
Torch, inverted-extinction of life; death; mourning
Torch, upright-immortality, liberty, upright life, the scholastic world, the betrayal of Christ
Trumpet-day of judgment; resurrection
Urn-soul; mortality
Urn, draped-death, sorrow
Winged wheel-holy spirit
Yoke-burden-bearing; service; patience


Almond-favor from God; Virgin birth
Apple-sin; Eve
Bouquets-condolences, grief
Buds-renewal of life
Cedar-strong faith; length of days; success
Cypress-sorrow; death; eternal life, Roman symbol for mourning
Easter lily-modern flower symbolic of resurrection
Flower-brevity of earthly existence, sorrow; certain flowers may symbolize emotions, particular aspirations, attitudes, both religious and secular
Flower, broken-premature death
Fruit-eternal plenty
Fruit and vine-Jesus Christ; the Christian church
Gourds-the coming to be and passing away of all earthly matters
Ivy-abiding memory, friendship, fidelity
Laurel-victory, triumph, glory
Lily, lilies-resurrection, purity
Lotus-Egyptian water lily and ornament
Oak-supernatural power and strength; eternity
Olive-peace; healing faith
Palm-spiritual victory over death; martyrdom; reward of the righteous; peace; a plant whose leaves resemble a hand
Pomegranate-immortality; resurrection; unity; nourishment of the soul
Poppy-symbolic of sleep, therefore, death
Roses-condolence, sorrow; the brevity of earthly existence; of English descent--the Tudor rose
Sheaves of wheat-time, the divine harvest
Strawberry-righteousness; humility
Thistle-of Scottish descent; the inevitability of death, remembrance
Tree-faith; life; the Tree of Life
Tree, felled-mortality
Tree trunk, broken-premature death
Vine-Christian church; Christ; wine, the symbolic blood of Jesus; the sacraments
Wheat sheaves-the divine harvest
Willow, weeping-grief; death (carried at Masonic funerals); earthly sorrow, the symbolic tree of human sadness, Nature's lament
Wreath-victory in death, indestructible crown worn by triumphant
Christian; eternity
Wreath worn by skull-victory of death over life

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Free Unlimited Online Image Storage

The power supply in my main computer workstation failed a week ago and in its dying gasp, sent a power spike through the system that fried the motherboard too. We all know that the hard drive in our machines will die at some point, but power supplies are typically more robust and you don't worry about them exiting life by stomping on the rest of the hardware in your computer.

Wait... What was that? We know our hard drives are going to die? Yes, that is the truth and it seems to be an unwritten fact of nature. It's an immutable law like death and taxes if you will. The few drives that don't die are aberrations that grow so long in the tooth both in size and speed, that they might as well die young with the rest of the breed.

All of us family history researchers regularly backup our data, photos, audio, video, e-mail, etc., right? We are never caught in a situation that results in the loss of our precious records. Fortunately, I take my own advice and do back up my files daily, so the death of my computer didn't result in the death of my data and image files.

While in the process of restoring my files from my backup drives and off-site storage, I realized that I was missing a great free off-site resource. Footnote will let anyone upload their various document images and photos for no cost AND with no storage limits. The maximum size any single image can be is 10 megabytes (big) and they have to be one of these file types, .gif, .tiff, .png or .jpg, but that fits almost every image or photo that I use in my own research and probably in yours too.

When you sign up for a free or subscription account on Footnote, you need to understand the terms associated with uploaded images. They can't be copyrighted unless you own the copyright and they will be visible to others searching the site. You still own them though. The terms are listed here.

Most of us family history researchers share our document images constantly. Birth, marriage, death certificates, passenger documents, wills, etc., are treasures we all 'covet'. It is easier to point other researchers to an image on a website than trying to find it on our workstations and then hope that the e-mail attachment will make it through the mail servers between the two parties.

I'm now uploading my precious photos and images to the Footnote site. I won't have to worry about my house burning down, being destroyed by an earthquake or my hard drives failing. My document images and family history photos are stored off-site at Footnote and I and others can access them any time from any computer that is connected to the Internet and has web browser software installed. To save an image back to my machine, I'll just have to right-click on it and click 'Save As'.

At last … a solution that solves several needs… off-site storage, access by other researchers and the fact that I'm helping the family history community. I found 'my' images and photos over 50+ years of research and there is no reason to plow that field twice. As other folks add their photos and images to Footnote, we will all benefit from them as well. If you don't already have a free or subscription account with Footnote, click here to see the sign up page.

Disclaimer. I work for the parent company of Footnote, but was not asked to write this note but rather, I asked permission to write it. I'm always looking for 'deals' to extend research funds for myself, my research friends and the family history community in general. The free storage at Footnote provides one more great 'deal' in that quest.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Have Kit - Will Travel

After my father died a number of years ago, I realized how much I'd lost by not interviewing him and getting his stories and family history on tape. Immediately deciding to rectify this character flaw, I gathered together a small collection of note pads, pens and an old cassette tape player to make an interview kit. My wife and I were newly married and didn't have money for a bag to hold this collection, so I kept it in cardboard box.

It remained safely in the box for several years until our
first born was old enough to talk and I wanted to record her voice. That was the last time my 'kit' was together for a lot of years. Most of my aunts and uncles died before I again realized that all of their family history knowledge and stories went with them.

How do you forget something like that? Especially when I started my married life with the right plan and had even assembled an interview kit. The answer is simple. I never used the kit. Never interviewed my parents and other older family members. Never acted on my 'good intentions'.

Lesson learned.

When my mother passed away, I'd finally been kicked hard enough to get me to act on my plan. I assembled an interview kit and have used it many times since. The life stories and histories captured in my interviews are priceless to myself and to the family members of those I've interviewed.

It is time for you to get 'off dead center' and interview your own family members.

What do you need in your kit? You'll need to decide the answer to that question yourself, but I'll tell you what I have in my interview kit.

1. A case to hold the contents. I found one at a January sale at
Eddie Bauer and it is perfect. It holds everything I need unless I'm video taping the interview.

2. A small cassette recorder. Get one that uses full size cassettes. Cassettes you say? In this digital world? You bet. High quality tapes are still the best storage medium for recordings if you take care of them.

Don't toss them in a drawer with your other 'stuff' and fill them with dirt, heat and strong electrical fields or you might as well throw them away to start. Keep them in a storage box, up off the floor, away from children in a secure location.

Use high quality 90 minute cassettes. They let you record for about 45 minutes per side (you'll need every second of that time once the person you are interviewing finally starts to talk).

You can always buy a patch cable and digitize the interviews by plugging it into your tape player speaker jack and in your computer sound card input jack. Mini-RCA plugs on both ends... see Radio Shack again. All computer operating systems today have audio recorders built in them.

3. Spare tapes. Spare batteries. Spare video tapes. Spare pens and pencils. (Remember to rotate the batteries every six months or they will probably fail just when you need them).

4. A list of interview questions. I keep several pages of questions in sheet protectors in a 1/2" 3-ring binder along with a couple dozen sheets of paper.

You'll need the questions to start the interview process and to help get you back on track when the interview goes far afield as they always do. Highlight the questions you want answered first and put colored marks by the questions that you also hope to fit in the session. You'll be very happy that you have the questions on your lap during the interview and surprised how blank your mind goes when you need to ask something intelligent about 40 minutes into it.
I've posted two of my lists here and the 2nd one here.

5. A digital recorder if you want to use it instead of a tape recorder. I have a little Sony IC Recorder that has enough capacity to hold several hours of speech and it works great. I also use it to record my own verbal life history when I'm in the oddest places. You take advantage of snippets of time when you have them....

6. A small directional microphone and stand. Don't frown, just get one. You want the sound coming from the person speaking, not all the sounds in the room, house and outside that are collected by the built-in microphone in recorders. If you ever forget to use one in your interview, you'll be sorry when you listen to your tape later. Who knew you could hear a truck three blocks away through walls?

7. Several pads of lined paper, post-it notes and throat lozenges, mints or whatever will keep the throats in the interview moist.

8. A tripod if you are using a video camera or maybe for your 35mm or digital camera.

9. A 12ft extension cord.

Looking at the list, you'd think the kit weighs 50 lbs and has to be moved around on wheels. Not so if you keep your camera(s) in their own carrying bag. My kit weighs around 4 lbs and isn't much larger than a 2 1/2" 3-ring binder. How did the nursery rhyme go? "It is just right".

I timed this note for early December so you'd have a chance to tell your sweetheart(s) that you know just what you want for Christmas..... the components of the Interview Kit and updates or purchases of your favorite genealogy software.

In the week following Christmas day, practice interviewing your spouse, children, others with your new tools and immediately listen to the recordings. You'll quickly learn what questions to ask and how to control the direction of the conversation.

Transcribe the interview and print copies for your family and your own family history storage binders. Way to go! You got it right and will always be glad you 'got off dead center'.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Data Mining and PJ's

I’ve spent several evenings reading through the Revolutionary War pension application and supporting documents of my 4th great grandfather, Abiel Chandler this week. I originally ordered the documents from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) several years ago and dutifully logged them into my Clooz records database, put them in acid-free sleeves and then filed them in a storage binder. Unfortunately, even though I’d read the data in the pension documents, I must have become temporarily addled, because I hadn’t transcribed the family history related info they contain into my records.

One of grandpa’s letters included the names, ages and occupations of his family members as well as their health conditions. This is great information! Why didn’t I extract it earlier? I think all of us are guilty of slipups like this. I often teach folks to spend part of their research time doing ‘data-mining’ in the records they already have in their possession.

For some reason, we tend to become excited over finding a fact in a document and often leave nuggets lying on the floor as we hasten to record the new factual treasure. Our minds say, “I’ve recorded the information from that document” and we promptly file it away in an acid-free sleeve in an archival binder where it hands in the dark for months or years without seeing the light of day again.

What prompted me to look for my filed copies of Abiel Chandler’s pension application again? I happened to be looking for something else on and while there saw the title of Revolutionary War Pensions listed and decided to go spelunking in that data cave. After searching for the records of several other ancestors who also fought in the Revolutionary War, I remembered grandpa Abiel and searched for his records.

Bingo! There they were and they were much more readable than the photocopies I’d received from NARA years ago. I saved all 28 of them to my local machine and printed them out again. Obviously, I wanted the digital copies and new easier to read hard copies for my files.

While still logged in to Footnote, I wrote a story page that included all of Abiel’s pension documents as well as four military pay receipts for him that were on the site.

The story thus far is about ‘found’ data in records I already owned. Once again, I thought of the ease that I’d enjoyed finding Abiel’s records online. It was after midnight, while listening to some smooth jazz, in my PJ’s, drinking egg nog at home. Nice!

If I’d ordered the same packet from NARA, the cost is $25 for the packet plus $15 for the handling and I’m sure I’m missing some costs now that NARA has substantially increased their fees. My cost for all the records on Footnote was an annual subscription of $59.95 (sometimes less if you watch the site for specials). Additionally, I’ve found Revolutionary War pension files for other ancestors on Footnote that I would have ordered a copy from NARA a year ago. Add the other records on the site that pertain to my ancestors, and the subscription price is a steal.

The same is true for subscriptions to Ancestry, World Vital Records, and other similar sites. Do a free search on these subscription sites and see if you find records that pertain to your family. Calculate the cost to obtain the same data from the Family History Library or a library near you and then determine how quickly the expense of visiting the libraries eclipses a subscription to an online research site. If you are like me, the answer is one trip to the library and unlike the subscription website, when my day is over at the library, so are my research discoveries from their records. However, the subscriptions last all year long and I don’t have to fight the traffic on I-15.

Smooth Jazz, PJ’s, egg nog. My family history research life is great!

Happy Holidays! Tell your sweetheart you want a research site subscription for Christmas!

Monday, November 19, 2007

It's A Small World - After All!

I've spent part of the day involved in a worldwide family history conference webcast on We heard from commercial vendors, subject matter experts and researchers from around the world. The interactive presentations and discussions were in real time. Participants and presenters sat in the comfort of their own homes while attending the no-cost conference.

Ten years ago, I started using the Internet for web meetings with my far flung U.S. and international cousins. These cousins groups enjoy a synergy of skills, resources and opportunities that exceeds the sum of the abilities of those involved. M
y cousins and I have jointly produced amazing results on research 'problems' that had stymied other family history researchers for centuries. The key word here is 'Team'.

If each member of these research teams actively engages in research and openly shares findings and participates in research discussions, amazing progress and discoveries result. The math a little different than we learned in grade school because in these teams one plus one equals two'ish and four plus four equals ten or twelve'ish. There is a great multiplying factor when the various members apply their unique perspectives in solving the problem(s) at hand.

Tonight I participated in a live webcast via UStream and a chat client. UStream resides on the wild, wild, web, but you don't need to delve in to the oddities created by others. You can create your own shows on UStream for free! Just create an account and then
create your own show(s). Then tell your guests the web address and the time to join the show. You control the content, so the program will be as good as you make it.

The presenters tonight broadcast live video from their home den teaching the attendees how to maximize the technology that is so readily available. This technology has a surprisingly low threshold of learning. Its use can significantly increase your effectiveness in family history research by engaging far flung members of research teams. How far is far flung? They may be on the other side of the earth or two doors away, but if they aren't sitting by you, they are 'far flung'. Electricity travels at the speed of light and even though traffic on the Internet isn't quite that fast, it 'almost' is, so distance isn't much of a factor any longer.

Ok, that all sounds great, but what equipment do I need if I want to host a broadcast or similar meeting session? All you need is a fast (broadband) internet connection, a webcam and a good microphone, plus the ability to talk intelligently, while reading the chat postings and keeping everyone focused on the subject, goal or task at hand.

Anyone can be the host of a webcast like those that I've participated in today. Anyone can be successful at it with a little planning and practice. You'd be surprised how quickly folks learn to use and engage in these forums.

There are hundreds of broadcast tools available. I found an open source product (meaning free to use) called DimDim and installed it on a server at work. It is great! I can send video of me, along with my voice and real time views of my computer desktop, applications I'm running, Powerpoint presentations, etc., to folks around the world and never have to get up from my desk. When one of my business contacts needs to see how to use some of the software tools we supply, I can show them step-by-step instructions using the tools doing real work in real time! All they need on their end is a broadband connection, a computer and a web browser like Firefox, Opera, etc. (Internet Explorer will work, but I don't like it).

DimDim would serve equally well among family history research groups. Go to the home page and watch the demos.

Don't think you want to install software on a server but want to use a webcast to teach your family history class or host a family history webcast? Drop a note to the great folks at and ask them if they will let you use their system and tools. You may be surprised at the response! Download the free ReGL viewer / control and ask Gena and Tex for some tips and pointers and you'll be ready to go. (P.S. They are particularly fond of family history library support staffs).

So why all this tech talk in a family history note? Am I a geek? Sure I am and so are a lot, if not most of you. If you aren't now, you soon will be when you tumble to the perspective of how much technology enhances your ability to do family history research, both alone and in teams of others. The tools are here. The cost is little to nothing. Don't say you can't learn to use them, because 'that dog don't hunt' argument doesn't cut it any more. Anyone can learn to use the great online social interaction tools that exist now. Keep your eye on the ball and out of the gutter when looking for solutions on line and you'll be amazed at what you find.

Call, write or e-mail your cousins or fellow researchers today and get the group involved in your (their) own webcast. Better yet, call them live using your (their) Skype software and set the agenda, time and date as soon as you finish reading this note. Try it, you'll like it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

To Subscribe or Not To Subscribe...

I've looked at several family history related pay sites for several weeks trying to decide if signing up for 'just one more subscription' was worth the investment. I've been a subscriber to Ancestry since the site was launched and also have subscriptions to other research sites. Did I want to subscribe to another one because I have a weakness for them or is there really some benefit to having multiple memberships?

The answer in my case is yes, it is worth having the multiple accounts. Especially since my two-year membership to World Vital Records only cost $39.95 as a special offer for users of Progeny Software. I added my super deal subscription to Ancestry that only cost me $16.95 when I purchased Family Tree Maker version 16 and decided, that "hey, this is letting me do a lot of research without the cost and hassle of traveling to a library".

A year subscription to the worldwide records on Ancestry and World Vital Records for less than $40 is good news isn't it? Well, let's see
how good the news really is. I live about 35 miles from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. My vehicle gets around 30 MPG on the freeway, if the freeway isn't a parking lot and if I keep my lead foot flat on the floor rather than on the 'go' pedal. The price of gasoline at my nearby gas station was $2.99 a gallon this week. The round trip to the Family History Library is 70 miles or 2 and 1/3 gallons of gas which equates to $7.00 for fuel. Is that the real cost to visit the library?

The Federal Government tells us that it costs us 48.5 cents per mile to drive our car anywhere. This figure is supposed to cover all the costs associated with the vehicle; purchase price, maintenance, taxes, licensing, insurance, fuel, etc. Is that all it really costs me to drive a mile? In my case maybe it is because my vehicle is pretty old and was paid for the year that I purchased it, but when I have to purchase a new vehicle that figure certainly won't be true. It will cost a lot more to drive a mile regardless of what accountants at the IRS tell me. I pay the bills and know how much it costs.

Unfortunately we don't use my vehicle strictly for service to a charitable organization, because it only costs 14 cents a mile to drive those miles according to the IRS. Maybe the church will ask me to drive to work every day and around the area constantly, so my operational costs will go down.

If I calculate my driving costs using the IRS figure, the trip to the Family History Library is $33.95 for a round trip! Add parking and the inevitable lunch from the vending machines to the cost of the visit and I easily spend $40+ per visit.

Hmmm.... $40 per visit to Salt Lake or $40 for a year subscription to two huge resource sites. I think I made the right choice for my $40 expenditure.

You can't beat the resources available at the Family History Library, but then you can't do research in your PJ's eating popcorn there either.

I shopped around and got super deals on my subscriptions. Even at the full subscription prices, you don't have to make many trips to a library to offset the cost of an annual subscription. We are all going to spend our research bucks on trips to cemeteries, interviewing relatives, purchasing birth, marriage and death certificates and 'cool' family history software, but we all need to consider purchasing research site subscriptions first.

You'll have to decide what gives you the most bang for your research buck. You know you'll eventually visit the FHL or another local library, (we all visit Disneyland at least once), but for much of your daily research, a subscription to Ancestry, Footnote and World Vital Records provides a ton of records at your finger tips at home any time any day you have a few minutes free.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Naming Traditions

Over the past few years, I've traced the lineages of several of our sons-in-law. My own research long ago passed the stage of 'easy pickings' or in other words, 'easily' found records about my ancestors who lived well documented lives in the same location for generations. Like many of my readers, my current research is focused on my 'brick wall' lines where progress is measured in gaining the hint of a name or location, not in 'easy pickings'.

Working on the lineage of our sons-in-law has allowed me to again enjoy the harvest of 'easy pickings'. I've always been fascinated by family naming traditions and sure enough, the traditions were easy to spot in their lineages.

At times, I've wondered aloud why people living 150 or more years ago didn't use a wider variety of first names for their children. How could they keep all the Elizabeth's, John's, Mary's and George's straight at family gatherings? It seems like almost every family had a very small name pool to shop from. Fortunately for me, I only have a couple of instances of Smith ancestors and one Bennett line. Others of you have been 'blessed' to descend from the wonderful but hard to research, Brown, Jones and Anderson families as well as many other families with common surnames.

Research life isn't as good for someone looking for John Brown or Mary Anderson as it is for someone looking for Americus Dayton Zabriskie. There aren't many folks named Americus Dayton Zabriskie, but John Brown and Mary Anderson share their name with Legions of other people.

In my own lineage, the name David threads through almost every generation. My 2nd great grandfather was the fourth David in a row and the name can be found in almost all of the families of his descendants.

Since we all encounter ancestors with common names, how can we leverage that information to help us find additional lineage? Years ago, I was given a handout in a class that covers the naming conventions found in most western families. I have found it to be extremely useful in my own research when I'm knocking down those 'brick walls'. Hopefully, it will help you too.

"Children were often given the names of grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts. Knowing this can help identify potential parental lines. A first son, for example, might be named after his father's father; the first daughter after her mother's mother; the second son after his mother's father and so on. Subsequent children would probably bear the names uncles and aunts as follows:

1st son = father's father
2nd son = mother's father
3rd son = father
4th son = father's oldest brother
5th son = father's
2nd oldest brother or mother's oldest brother
1st dau = mother's mother
2nd dau = father's mother
3rd dau = mother
4th dau = mother's oldest sister
5th dau = mother's 2nd oldest sister or father's oldest sister

Inheritance factors (such as a rich uncle) could break the pattern. In addition it is not uncommon to find more than one child of a couple with the same given names. This normally occurred when the one of the children died and a subsequent child was given the same name. In the 19th Century in the United States, boys were often given first names like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin in honor of the Founding Fathers."

Friday, October 26, 2007

Georgia Death Certificates Online

Another great announcement for family history researchers came out this week. The State of Georgia and the great folks at FamilySearch have worked to put images of the Georgia Death Certificates from 1919 - 1927 online with free access by researchers.

You have to love the States and FamilySearch who have partnered to put Death and other records online for us. Here's a hearty 'Thanks' to FamilySearch and the states involved in these projects.

Here is the official announcement of the new Georgia Death Certificates posting:

Georgia Death Certificates Now Viewable Online

Some 275,000 certificates from 1919 to 1927 linked with index and images

"SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH—FamilySearch and the Georgia Archives announced today that Georgia’s death index from 1919 to 1927 can be accessed for free online. The online index is linked to digital images of the original death certificates. This free database will open doors to additional information for family historians and genealogists with Georgia ties. The index and images can be searched and viewed at (Virtual Vault link) or

The names of Georgia’s deceased from 1919 to 1927 are now very much alive, searchable, and viewable online—and for free. The online index to some 275,000 Georgia deaths is the result of a cooperative effort between FamilySearch Record Services, the Georgia Archives, and the Georgia State Office of Vital Records and Statistics.

FamilySearch digitized the records, and volunteers from both FamilySearch and the Archives used FamilySearch indexing technology to create a searchable online index from the digital images of the original historic documents. “These death records are obviously a gold mine for genealogists and historians. Certificates include age, county of death, parents names, occupation, gender, race and cause of death; these documents open all kinds of possibilities to researchers,” said Georgia Archives director, David Carmicheal.

The deceased person’s name, birth and death dates, sex, spouse and parents’ names and location of death were extracted from each certificate for the searchable database. The linked image of the original death certificate can reveal additional interesting facts and clues for the family historian─like the names and birth places of the deceased person’s parents, place and date of the decedent’s birth, marital status, occupation, permanent residence, and place and date of burial and cause of death.

Before making the certificates viewable online, Carmicheal said patrons had to order copies through the mail for a fee or visit the state archive’s office in person. The new online database will make it quicker and easier for patrons to get the information they are seeking.

“It is always exciting for family historians when they can freely search a vital record index online like the Georgia death records. The link to the original death certificate is an added bonus—it saves you time, money, and provides rich genealogy data,” said Paul Nauta, manager of public affairs for FamilySearch. The users just type in an ancestor’s name that died in Georgia between 1919 and 1927. They will see a brief summary of information from the ancestor’s death certificate with a link to also view the original image. Additional state indexes are currently in production.

The Genealogical Society of Utah, doing business as FamilySearch, is a nonprofit organization sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. FamilySearch maintains the world's largest repository of genealogical resources accessed through, the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, and over 4,500 family history centers in 70 countries.

FamilySearch is a trademark licensed to the Genealogical Society of Utah and is registered in the United States of America and other countries."

Another Genealogy Research Deal

I talked to one of the folks at footnote today asking if they had any good 'deals'. It seems that I found the right person in the right situation because he gave me a short duration annual subscription 'deal' to for my blog readers. The offer only lasts through Sunday, November 18th, so if you have any friends or family who are interested, pass the info on to them. They might as well take advantage of it while it is available.

Hmmmm... It just thought about it making a great Christmas gift if you have a family member who is also into family history and history related research. It is that time of the year to be thinking of gifts and my mind tends to dwell on family history 'stuff'.

If you sign up, be sure to spotlight some images and write story pages about your ancestors or any other 'historical' event that you have information about. Here's a link to a story page that I wrote recently.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Have You Tiddled Your Wiki Today?

I've mentioned creating your own Wiki several times in the past and wonder how many of you are actually using one. I love my various Wiki's and use them constantly. I've found that I use my TiddlyWiki the most. It is simple to use and doesn't take any special programming or coding knowledge. If you use any coding in your Word documents, you can use a wiki.

My Wiki's contain my 'cheat sheets' among other things. The 'cheat sheets' are lists of instructions that I don't want to memorize, but need to reference frequently. One example is instructions on how to record information for source types that I don't use very often. Another example is a list of links to family history resource pages that are only used on occasion but that I want at my fingertips, neatly organized and searchable. You know the resource links that I'm talking about. They are in these posts frequently.

TiddlyWiki lets you add a new Tiddler (entry) with one click. How hard is that? Additionally, you may also want to add a journal entry. It is just as easy to create as a wiki entry. Just click on 'New Journal' and there you are, a blank formatted page already dated and attributed to you.

You can link all journal and wiki entries by just referencing their titles in the tag field at the bottom of the entries. My entries / articles are all interlinked by subject and the 'thread' (topic, conversation, etc.) is easy to follow throughout all of them.

Additionally, you can do a keyword search for any specific word or words of interest. As an example, I tried to remember how many times I've written about using acid-free paper and sheet protectors and ran a search. One second later all of my entries containing 'acid-free' were listed on my screen and the words 'acid-free' were highlighted in all of them.

I also use my TiddlyWiki for research notes. When I create research notes in my Legacy database, I copy them and make an entry in my wiki. In Legacy, the notes are tied to a specific individual, event or place and I typically look them up that way. In my wiki, I can search them by topic, location, year, names, etc., covering all the entries at once.

How easy is it to install TiddlyWiki? It is simple. Just click on the "download software" on the left side of the page and then right click on the link "this link to empty html" and save it to your desktop or to a folder on your hard drive. If you saved it to a folder, make a shortcut to your desktop and/or to your Start menu.

TiddlyWiki is really just a big long web page. There are many links on the TiddlyWiki page to help 'beginners' and 'experts' alike.

After you save the TiddlyWiki page and start using it, remember to hit 'save' after each of your entries and to 'BACK IT UP' often. You'll quickly find that your wiki will become an 'enhanced' extension of your memory and you know how it feels to loose your memory, so back it up - often.

I'm frequently asked how often to back up your family history records or by extension, your wiki. I back mine up daily using Mozy. When you make your back up timing decision, you'll have to determine your threshold of pain. Once you've lost your files because you didn't back them up, you'll know how far you've crossed the threshold.

Download the wiki code and a it a try. Tiddle your Wiki today.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Family Genie 2.0 Released

There is good news for family history researchers today. Mario at Carpe Geekum has released a new version of the Family Genie tool bar that even further enhances its ability to help us find family history information on the web.

Mario has written Family Genie out of the goodness of his heart to help the family history community. He is asking users for a small donation to help pay his bandwidth and storage costs.

Here's the announcement:

I am excited to announce the release of Family Genie 2.0. There have been a few new sites added but the biggest change is in the underlying structure to make it compatible with Vista's Internet Explorer 7 as well as Firefox 2.0.

You can download the latest version at:

As always it is completely Adware and Spyware free. Let me know if you have any questions at

Blatent attempt to raise support funds below:

As you may already know, Family Genie is supported solely on donations from its users. At this point we have thousands of users and have only had $35 dollars donated to support its development. If you feel so inclined please make a donation at to keep Family Genie alive.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Story Pages

I've talked about adding color to personal histories and family stories in earlier posts. Recently, I created a Story Page on Footnote about one of my ancestors, Susanna North Martin, who was hung as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692.

The court documents related to her trial and eventual execution for the mythical crime are full of her own words. They also include both the imagined and false statements of her accusers and the unimaginable mindset of the local government at that time. Reading them gives us a unique insight into the social conditions that existed in Salem, Massachusetts over 300 years ago.

My wife and I have visited the spot where grandma, along with a number of other innocents,
was hung. From our current day perspective, I was both saddened and angered as we walked around gallows hill thinking of that sad event.

However, without the accusations, subsequent trial and hanging, grandma Martin's record would consist of little more than a name and associated dates and places in my database. Her story would have no 'flesh' on it... No 'color'.

Have you been able to add 'color' to the life stories of your own ancestors? Start with those closest to you and then work back in time. The key to success is to 'just do something' or as the old Nike' ad said, "Just Do It!"

Begin at the beginning by writing your own life history. Then add photos, documents and related memorabilia associated with 'your' story. Next, write the stories of your parents lives. Remember to include some of those old family favorite stories that you heard while growing up. Add photos and other pieces of 'color' to bring your stories to life.

When we read grandma Martin's Story Page on Footnote ... complete with the transcripts associated with her arrest, trial and conviction, ... it helps us understand her 'world' and society. The old stories become fact in our minds as we view the original pages and handwriting. 'Color' fills in between the rows of facts and engages our mind and imagination.

Her tale of legal woe begins with an arrest warrant. It lists her crime, accusers and officers of the court. Click here to read it.

Her story does have a semi-happy ending though. Grandma was pardoned by the legislature of the State of Massachusetts on 31 Oct 2001 .... 309 years after she was hung for being a 'witch'.
Susanna Martin - Arrest Warrant - Accused of being a Witch - 1692 Salem, MA

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Books, Burials and Places

The anniversary of the involvement of the United States in World War II will soon be upon us. Most of us have parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and other family members who served in the military during that war and other wars and military actions. Almost all of them qualified to be buried in military cemeteries. Have you searched for information about them in the related cemetery records?

It is easy to do. Just look at the Department of Veteran Affairs,
National Gravesite Locator site and create a search for them. I've found many records for my own extended family on the site. The records often provide information that I haven't found elsewhere. Additionally, the site is updated within a month or two of a burial, so if you've lost an extended family member and know they or their spouse was buried in a veterans cemetery, search for them today.

If you haven't looked at the Northeast and Southeast genealogy sites in your quest yet, take a look. You'll be pleasantly surprised at the number of relevant research links you'll find on the sites. Just click on the state of interest and then click on the county(ies) you want to search to see the related links.

The 1914-1927 Georgia Death Certificates were added as yet another free resource to the LDS FamilySearch Labs site today. To login, simply enter your e-mail address and you'll be taken to the full list of free resources.

I have ancestors who migrated to Australia from England. You may also have family members who live there or passed through on their way to New Zealand and other points in the southern hemisphere. If so, go to the Mariners and Ships in Australian Waters site and see if you can find their passenger records. My family members were listed. How did you do in your search?

A few months ago, was launched as a free site that allows uses to post their ancestry and hopefully find others who have common ancestry. I haven't used the site other than to look at its design. It may be yet another tool in your research quiver.

Are you constantly searching for U.S. locations? If so, you'll want to visit and bookmark the Place Names site. Here's how the site describes itself, "A gazetteer to find countries, cities, towns, villages, mountains, hills, rivers, lakes, islands and other geographic and administrative place names with their location, latitude, longitude and elevation."
And finally, if you are interested in the family history related publications that are released daily, be sure to visit the Genealogy Librarian News blog. It is constantly updated with new release information and who knows ... the new release may be the exact record you have been seeking for years.

Does that sound too good to be true? Well, it isn't a false statement. Several years ago, I visited the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and found a new book containing the burial records of the Burnt Church Cemetery in Walworth, Wisconsin that had been put on the shelves for the first time that morning. When I opened the book, there they were.... the burial records for my 3rd and 4th great grandmothers and a great-grand uncle.

I had looked for them for 25 years and never thought I'd ever find any clues to help break down that particular ancestral brick wall. The wall came down, at least for one generation and I now hove clues to help me in my quest to find the rest of the family 'across the pond'. Miracles happen in family history research if you work hard enough. Expect them to happen in your own hard won ancestral quest.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Genealogists - Deal of the Year

Here's a deal that won't be around long and is too good to not pass on to you... is selling their Family Tree Maker software for a very discounted price. The 'deal' part of the offer is that you get a one-year subscription to Ancestry with the purchase. I think this means that the subscription is to the most expensive "World Deluxe" offering which costs $24.95 a month if paid annually. Even if it is for the U.S. subscription; that cost is $12.95 a month if paid annually.

I personally don't care for Family Tree Maker and will probably toss the unopened box to get the subscription. Who cares you say? Well, here's the "But Wait, There's More" part of the deal....

You additionally get other very valuable software with the package, but first, remember -- ANCESTRY.COM- 1 YEAR SUBSCRIPTION FOR $15.49!

Click on this link to access the deal.

Here is what you get for less than $16:
  • Family Tree Maker v.16 ($100 value)
  • A one year subscription to ($360 value)
  • Concise Genealogical Dictionary ($14 value)
  • Ancestry Reference Library CD-ROM ($50 value)
  • Family Tree Workbook ($20 value)
  • A copy of GenSmarts ($25 value)
  • Historical maps collection DVD
  • A 30 minute consultation from Ancestry
My suggestion on this offer? Jump on it like a duck on a June bug. ASAP - before the offer ends. Word will get out and the shelves will empty quickly. (BTW... I don't have any affiliation with the vendor in any way).

How did the old commercial go? .... "Try it Mikey!" "You'll like it!"

Update: 9 Oct 2007

I hope folks were able to get a copy before the vendor realized they had a 'hot' selling item. They have increased the price to $29.95 as of 9 Oct.

It is still a good price when you take into consideration the year subscription to Ancestry.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Now, Who Is That?

Some of us have discovered that we forget things from time to time or maybe all of the time. I've been looking through some photos that we took 'not that long ago' and although I recognized the faces, I don't have a clue about the names of some of the people. Thinking that the memory loss was just a 'recent' affliction, I began to look through old photos hoping to find a photo of my subject when she was young. Well, it appears that my 'software' failure extends beyond farther back than I thought. I've had the old photos for a long time and know the scenes well, but the names..... Maybe they'll float to the surface of my memory tomorrow if I look at the photos again. I hope.

How have you labeled your family photos over the years? My mother used to write on the face of the photos with a pen listing names and dates and sometimes location names. I've always hated seeing the photos defaced this way but am very hap
py that she wrote the names, etc., down. If she hadn't, I don't think anyone alive would know the names of the folks in the old photos even if they are of then young aunts and uncles, etc.

There are probably a number of ways to record names, dates and places shown on photos. I've long used a system that works for me and thus far hasn't produced any negative effects on the photo.

I've created a template for Avery Labels on my computer
and print the photo information to the labels using a laser printer. I then put the printed labels the back of the photos. If any professional or similarly trained folks read this note, they'll probably be alarmed to read my method. I welcome their constructive comments if that is true.

The folks on RootsWeb / GenTrek have written a good article on t
he subject that you'll want to read. Please also note the three links at the bottom of the page. The related pages will be very useful in making your own photo labeling decision.

In addition to my labels, I also scan the photos. The digital
images are saved on all of the computers in our home and I also burn them to archival DVD's. A copy of these DVD's is kept at home and another is given to our children in rotation.

An additional benefit of the digital photos is that you can embed the names, locations, etc. in the image data itself.

As an example, if you have the free Irfanview software on your computer, the data can be entered in in the Comments section of the photo information. In this case, just go to Image > Information > Comment. You can also add the info in the IPTC section. While there, list ownership, copyrights, etc., for the photos and images.

Other imaging software has similar tools so you can view or record this data. You'll just have to take a few minutes and find the 'Information' selection in your application.

Be aware that not all applications can or will show the data you enter in these sections however. To find out, try looking at the images that have your comments, IPTC info, etc., using the various imaging applications that you have on your computer. Can you see the data you entered? If not, write it in another section of the photo information tags.

You may want to also try the free Faststone Image Viewer. See if you can read the data in your image file by pointing your mouse to the right side of the screen when it is being displayed.

Regardless of your digital information recording method, you'll still need to decide on a plan that lets you physically see the titles, names, dates, etc., about your photos. The physical information has a much better chance of surviving the changes in software, etc., that naturally occur over time.

If you have a good system that works for you, please let me know so it can be shared with other readers of this blog.

Here's a great tune that explores the opportunities that my over 40 memory enjoys every day. I think you may find that the song was written about you too!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Demise of a Great Photo

We all know that we should keep our photos in acid-free storage pages, standing upright in cool dark places, but how many of us do it? I'm sorry to say that not all of the photos in our home are stored this way. I didn't expect to be bitten by the ravages of time like I was though.

My parents had a very good photo taken of themselves a few years before my father passed away. The 7x9" photo hangs on the wall in the long hall in our home that is adorned with photos of our family and ancestors. I suppose there is paint on the walls of the hall, but you'd need to scoot the photo frames aside to find it. I look at the photos every day as I meander down the hall to the 'black hole'. My wife and daughters have so christened my office with that name because my sons and son-in-laws tend to never surface again after they walk down the hall to visit me.

A while ago I stopped and closely looked at the photo of my parents only to gasp when I noted that the colors were becoming severely faded. The photo hangs in a location out of the sun, in fact, you'd almost say that almost all of the light in the hall has been sucked into the 'black hole' unless you turn on the overhead lights.

So why were the colors fading so fast?

There are several reasons; aging photo paper, chemicals on the surface of the photo breaking down over time and so on... It was time to make a high resolution scan of the photo and burn the file to archival quality DVD's and CD's.

Down came the photo. I carefully opened the back to expose the 1968 vintage interior to 2007 air and light. I didn't anticipate the problem that I immediately encountered. The photo was stuck to the inside surface of the glass in the frame! Not only stuck, but fractured, slimed and possibly melded to the glass below the level of the surface tension of its molecules! What to do.....

Well, you ladies know what this guy did in this situation. I pealed the photo off the glass (carefully mind you) and of course left a lot of the photo on the glass. There probably is some photo restorer out there who could have saved the photo in its entirety or at least saved more than I did, but who could wait for that? Apparently, not me.

Not all was lost. I'd scanned a 3x5" version of the photo 15 years ago and although the resolution was much smaller than the setting I use now, I still have a fairly good copy of the photo for my files. It doesn't make me feel much better but it helps.

So, do as I say, not as I've done. Digitize your photos and burn the files to many DVD's or CD's. Give copies of them to family members who live some distance away from you for safe storage. Store their backed up files and photos in return. Make hard copy clones of the photos that you really want to display. Hang the copy on the walls or propped up on your tables or on dad's desk at work. Keep your good / original copy in an archival quality sleeve inside an archival storage box in a cool dark place. Then you'll be able to remind me and others to do it right if we really want to keep our photos in good condition for a long, long time.

I've always enjoyed the vocals of Gail Davies. Here she is singing one of my favorite songs: "Grandma's Song"

Monday, September 24, 2007

Tombstones and Wiki's

Tombstone Inscriptions

We often talk about viewing and posting headstone photos in our family history research. However, most cemetery records do not involve websites with just photos of headstones. They are lists of tombstone inscriptions gathered by volunteers around the world and posted on the web. If you haven't searched for these records before, try it today. Simply use your favorite search engine and enter the simple search parameters: "tombstone inscriptions" and include the location you are searching. You may use a city, county name, state, province, parish, etc., in your search string.

As an example, a Google search for "tombstone inscriptions" + "new hampshire" resulted in 955 hits which list thousands of tombstone inscriptions in New Hampshire. If you don't find listings for 'the' cemetery you hoped to find in a search that included a city name, broaden the search by to a county or even the full state. The same logic is true if you have used the name of a cemetery in your search and aren't successful. Back out a step and loosen the search parameters to the city, county or state level and try again.

Don't rely on just one search engine in your quest. Use several of them and review their varied results.

What's New In Family History Indexing?

Hopefully you are one of the index volunteers or soon will be. The current list of records that are now being indexed shows that the indexing is increasing in scope. They include state and federal census records, marriage and death records and Mexican, Belgian and U.S. records. The increasing international diversity is evident in the mix. Haven't signed up to be an indexer yet? Do it now by going to the registration site. Remember, helping with the indexing is one form of 'Paying It Forward'.

How Will I Find Help Using The "New FamilySearch"?

The assistants at all branch family history libraries have or are receiving training in the tools associated with the New FamilySearch. They, combined with family history consultants in every LDS ward, will be able to help you gain the skills to maximize your research skills with the new tools. New FamilySearch is already rolling out in various locations in the world and will continued in measured steps worldwide. The last location to be activated will be the Wasatch Front area of Utah in mid-summer 2008.

Additionally, a new Wiki is being added to FamilySearch to help all of us. The new FamilySearch Wiki will function much the same as
Wikipedia. Users and experts will populate the pages with postings covering the knowledge and skills they've obtained in their own ancestral quest. You can be one of the contributing authors to this online knowledgebase, so start jotting down your entries now.

Take a little time and page through the initial postings and then jump to Wikipedia to get the flavor of a mature Wiki. I think we'll see FamilySearch Wiki turn into one of the greatest family history research tools on the web.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Finding Grandma and Grandpa

Some family researchers find that they descend from ancestors that are famous for one reason or another. The 'fame' of their ancestors aids researchers who are trying to find information about them, because their names and records are recorded both in numerous histories and in association with the cause of their 'fame'.

Let’s walk through the process of finding some well-known individuals who are famous because of their bad luck.

The Willie and Martin Handcart Companies were comprised of
members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who were migrating to Utah in the late summer – fall of 1856. Their ill-fated trek is well documented in numerous historical publications and on websites like this one and this one, as well as on the LDS Church Archives site which includes the members of the Martin Company and the Willie Company. Disaster struck the group when an early winter set in as they were still far from their destination.

How can we discover if our ancestors were among this group or another well documented group of immigrants? Let's use the members of these companies as our examples for this discussion. The discussion will necessarily be brief given the fact that this is a blog and not a study guide. Follow the links in this posting to find indepth guidance and research aids to find your own ancestors.

Start with the most basic family history research step:

Identify the ancestors you know starting with yourself, then your parents, grandparents, etc. Use the steps listed on FamilySearch to aid in your quest. Download a copy of the pedigree and family group charts on the site and print copies of them. Fill in the information you already know.

If you have a computer you'll probably want to use it to hold and organize your data. If you don't have family history software on your computer, you may want to download PAF or Legacy Family Tree. Both of these software packages are very good and offer a free version. But remember, you don't have to have genealogy software or a computer. Believe it or not, family history researchers didn't have computers until 'fairly' recently. However, I recommend using them if at all possible.

Fill out the pedigree chart with the names of your ancestors as far back as you know them. If you don't know very many generations, call your parents, siblings and extended family and ask if they have information about your ancestors that they will share with you.

Go to FamilySearch and search for the individuals who are in the last generation on the right side of your pedigree charts.

Hopefully, other individuals have submitted information about your lineage. You'll want to confirm that their information is correct by visiting a library that holds well-sourced records about your family. The library you visit may be located in your city, at a university such as at BYU, at a branch Family History Library or at the main Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

We are using members of the Willie and Martin handcart companies in our discussion. If you are searching to find a tie to any of them, be sure to review their surnames and see if you recognize any of them when compared to the surnames on your pedigree chart. If there are matches, search for the name of that person(s) in the handcart company on FamilySearch and pay special attention to any listings that appear about them in the Ancestral File section in the results list of your query. Click on their descendants and look through their names and see if you can find any that correspond with your known lineage. (The Ancestral File section won't appear until you have made your search.)

If you find connections between yourself and a member of the handcart companies.... great! Copy the information and use the libraries near you to find other records such as birth, marriage, death, census and probate records to confirm the information.

If you don't find information that ties you to a member of the company, don't immediately give up your search. You've only just started an enjoyable quest. Use the tools found in the pages in the above links and those found on the Internet like Rootsweb and on family history related subscription sites to continue your search.

You can also use a search engine like Google or one of the many other engines to search for your information about your ancestors. Remember to put quotes around their names to get more specific hits... like "John Jones". If you want to add a date or place to the search, it would look like this: "John Jones" + 1846 or "John Jones" + "Cleveland, Ohio", etc.

Remember to read and include the wonderful Research Guidance publications on FamilySearch as tools in your quiver.

If you didn't find a link to the members of the handcart company, that is ok. Not many folks in the world descend from them, but we all descend from wonderful individuals. We just need to find them. Each generation of our ancestors is a full set of 'wonderful' people, regardless of their fame or entries in historical publications.

If you are of the LDS faith, you'll want to check any ordinance work for the people in your databases and family group sheets at a branch library or ask your ward family history consultant for assistance.

Remember to document all of the information you find. Without documentation, the data you collect makes a nice story, but that is all that it is -- a story. I recommend that you look at the excellent sourcing examples listed on the Legacy Family Tree site. The examples are applicable to both hard copy documents and genealogy software. Review these source formatting examples and implement something similar in your own databases or family group sheets. Whatever method you use, use it consistently so other researchers can follow the method you've used to record your sources.

As a quick review...

Look through your home and put all family history related documents, photos, etc. together in one box or two.

2. Ask your family for a copy of any ancestral information they have collected and offer to share your findings with them.

Use FamilySearch and other online ancestral data websites to help you research from home or another location with an Internet connected computer.

Visit a local library or branch family history library and search their resources for information about your family. Remember to ask the assistants at the branch family history library or those in your local community or church for research assistance and suggestions.

LASTLY, believe you are going to find information on your ancestors.

By acting on that belief, miracles often happen in our ancestral quest. Make it happen in your own quest. Family history research doesn't require advanced education, it just requires action by the researcher and the use of the many tools and guidance publications available to all of us on the Internet and at the branch family history libraries located around the world.