Monday, December 31, 2012

In 2013 I will ...

 calendar by 
Yes, I've made my standard New Year's Resolutions - work out more frequently, eliminate (or maybe try to control) that pile of clutter on the kitchen counter, etc.  This year I'm also adding a few resolutions that relate to genealogy.  What started me thinking along this line was Lisa Alzo's blog post 13 Easy Genealogy Resolutions You Can Make and Keep that was mentioned last week in Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter.  I probably need to print the list out and keep it posted near my desk.  The blog post is a quick read, full of common sense ideas.  The list is bound to help me develop some better habits with its links to free, purchased, and subscription resources.

From Alzo's list here are three on which I really plan to focus in 2013.
  • Attend conferences - I'm looking for a stimulating genealogy conference to attend in the Southeast, preferably around the Atlanta area.  I've attended local workshops, heard interesting speakers, and followed webinars, but now I'm ready for more.  What would be a great first conference to attend?  Any suggestions?
  • Tidy your sources - Recently I purchased the download edition of Evidence Explained.  As I have started following the analysis and citation practices it contains, I see how much clean up is ahead for me with my old record sources.  And yes, I know I will be reading and rereading sections many times!
  • Back up your data - This means my genealogy software, digital photos, and scanned documents, not just occasionally or when I think of it but monthly.  I'm putting a monthly event in Google Calendar so I'll get annoying alerts and actually do it!
There it is, posted for others to see.  And thanks to Lisa Alzo, I may finally have made some resolutions that I will be keeping this year.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Weekend Genealogist

Recently I stopped by our public library to pick up a book and took a few minutes to browse in the Tennessee Room, our library's genealogy collection.  In the display of new materials, one book caught my eye,The Weekend Genealogist: Timesaving Techniques For Effective Research by Marcia Yannizze Melnyk.  The title sounded interesting, and I ended up skimming through the entire book, kicking myself that I only had an old grocery list with me for taking a few notes on some of her practical tips.

Once home, I transcribed my notes, paying close attention to one part that really spoke to me.  Melnyk had a very informational section about preparing to visit and utilize a research library, including a list of materials she carried in her research tote.  Eureka!  Based on her ideas, I've putting together a research tote to keep in my car.  Right now I'm using one of the many tote bags I accumulated through years of teaching.  My tote has my favorite writing paper (a blank legal pad), several pens and pencils, a bookmark that can also double as a ruler as I skim charts and lists, sticky notes for pages I want to copy, a list of my research goals or questions to help me focus, and some blank index cards just in case.  

When I've been out of town doing research, I've meticulously carried things like this in my laptop bag, but now they will be with me everyday, placed underneath those other totes I carry into the grocery store each week.  With my research tote, a small magnifying sheet stowed in my wallet, and my cell phone camera, I'll be ready for whatever I find.

I'm glad I spent some time looking at Marcia Yannize Melnyk's The Weekend Genealogist.    Her book has a lot of helpful suggestions, all designed for helping us make the most of small or limited blocks of time available to research our families.  It can be especially helpful to beginning family historians to see ways in which to work a little at a time and not be overwhelmed by the enormity of the task at hand.  The research tote idea was just one of the many ideas she had so we can plan our work and work our plan.

(The book is available for purchase at as well as other bookstores.  The cover image is from

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Candlelight Christmas

My home still wasn't totally decorated for Christmas, but I was excited to be visiting a home that was.  It was early December, a crisp, clear evening, and we were on our way to visit Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, for their Candlelight Christmas Tour.

Biltmore House, the largest private residence in the United States, was beautifully decorated for Christmas.  Outside was an enormous lighted tree surrounded by smaller trees, getting a beautiful scene at the front of the house.  Inside was a 35-foot Christmas tree in the Banquet Hall, wreaths, trees, and decorations in almost every room, and candles everywhere.  During our time at Biltmore, we strolled from room to room to the soft sounds of a harpist playing Christmas carols.  It really was a lovely evening.

One thing I brought home from my visit was the memory of all the photographs and displays throughout Biltmore House.  Over and over, these told the story of the Vanderbilt family - stories of birthday parties, a Christmas Eve dinner, playing with pets, friends visiting, the everyday types of stories we all have.  I especially liked one display relating how a primary purpose of Biltmore House was to share these stories with others.

There you go, more people celebrating and sharing family stories.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Memories Ornament

In my husband's family, each Christmas we adults exchange token gifts, usually candy, fruit, or other goodies.  This year, I made something different to give each family, a Memories Ornament.

I know most Christmas ornaments don't come with directions, but this one does.  The idea behind the ornament is for us to take time to think back over the year, select several special memories and write each memory on a slip of paper.  The paper can be rolled or folded to put inside the ornament.  Every few years, a memory or two can be removed from the ornament (using tweezers, very carefully, learned from experience) and the memory shared again with others.

The ornament is also a way to remember some of the special events in our children's lives - a win in a volleyball tournament, rave reviews for a role in the school play, a high rating at a band festival, college acceptance letters.  It can also be an event as simple as playing a marathon game of Go Fish with a grandchild or recalling the view on a hike.  Whatever makes you smile and warms your heart can be a family story to celebrate.

It only took about two hours (plus glue drying time) to make the ornaments:  glass balls from a craft store, a few sheets of holiday scrapbook paper from my stash, ribbon from my Christmas wrapping box, glue for attaching paper to glass (Crafter's Pick Ultimate Glue), and a few minutes at a computer.  Even my husband was pleased with the way they turned out.

Years ago, a friend gave me a similar ornament.  I've been adding memories to it since 1997.  Just looking at my ornament makes me smile and think of the new memories I'll be adding to it this year.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Memories.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Some New Friends

I've got a few friends online whose posts help me learn more about researching my family's history.  You might decide to "like" them, too.

One online friend is  As a friend, I receive posts about upcoming webinars.  If I can't watch it live, I can watch it later through their archived broadcasts.  You don't have to have an Ancestry subscription to be a friend, just "like" their page.  A few months ago, I also received several status updates about an contest featuring a trip to England.  No, I didn't win, but it wasn't for lack of entering, but perhaps I will win their contest connected to the recent release of the Lincoln movie.

Another friend on is  They are a relatively new Internet search engine geared to genealogy and family history.  As they say on their website,

"Mocavo filters out all of the irrelevant search results about living people and gives you one-stop access to information from genealogy libraries, state archives and family records." 
Mocavo is starting to move beyond searching just these records into other areas including a collection of college yearbooks, and they are using facebook as one way to publicize their services.  Thanks to a posting, I visited their site and looked through the entire 1928 Agnes Scott College yearbook where I learned a lot about an aunt's impressive college years.  Later I shared this link with a niece who will soon be heading to college.  My niece, in turn, enjoyed looking at college life 84 years ago.  

My newest friend is Evidence Explained, the book on citation and evidence evaluation.  Daily updates give me a brief description of a citation issue, sometimes with a reference to the discussion forum on the book's web site.  The 800+ page citation manual is not something one can read and comprehend in one sitting, but the daily postings give me the chance to grow in understanding the finer points of analyzing and citing sources, a little at time.

These are just a few genealogy entities with this particular online presence.  Maybe you will find some societies, vendors, or organizations you might want to add to your friends list.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Good Day to Start Organizing, p. 2

Keeping your materials organized is an ongoing process because you are always finding something new.  When I come across material that I need or want to keep, I first record and cite the data in my genealogy software, then put the printed material in the "File Pile", next to my laptop.  Because I tend to focus on an individual family group for a period, I've found it helpful to keep recently used documents close at hand; you never know when you need to quickly recheck something.  Then, every few weeks, I catch up on my filing or scanning.  Filing is also a good break when I seem to be running into a brick wall, getting nowhere in my research.

Earlier this year, I sent several afternoons going through my files, looking at what I had, and considering ways to better know what was there.  I did a Google search for free genealogy forms and found several that might me a clearer picture of what I had.  Bailey's Free Genealogy Forms had a number of download forms including a Research Log titled "Research Record Sheet" that was just what I needed.  I downloaded it, printed copies, and am using this form as a Table of Contents for each file folder, as in the sample shown below. 

Entry 1 is for the transcription of an ancestor's will, and it is document #9 in the Andrews Family files.  I've written an identifier, "Andrews Family - 9" along the 11" side of the document so it is easily read in the folder.  No matter when I take that transcription out of the folder, I can always get it back in the correct folder once I've finished using it, thanks to the identifier.  As a New Year's resolution, I've going to be copying the info from my Research Record Sheets onto a Google Sheets spreadsheet so it is easy to access when I away from my files.  On Google Sheets I'll be adding a note as to whether the info is paper, scanned, or photo.

In addition to my Surname Files, I have a few general files that I consult periodically.
  • Blank Census Forms for each census year - handy for seeing the different data recorded for each census enumeration, especially those that only show tally marks
  • Check On file - unsourced or questioned data that I want to check further into 
  • Maps - copies of old state,county, and militia district maps
  • Specialized files such as my "Norwegian Searching Tips" gathered from a variety of sources and useful when I'm researching one branch of my family
This has been a quick look at the way my files are organized.  Have you found ways that work for you?  I'll like to hear about them.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Good Day to Start Organizing, p. 1

December 10 is Dewey Decimal System Day, a day dear to this retired library media specialist's heart. (The Straight Dope actually has an interesting history of how Dewey came up with his organizational system if you are interested in knowing more.)  So what better day to begin considering ways to organize genealogy, family stories, photos, and mementos you have acquired!

Trust me, there will come a time when you see that you need some way to organize all things related to your genealogy research.  Below is a brief look at how my materials are organized, followed by links to other methods which might speak more to your way of seeing things.

Alphabetical Approach: I like to be able to hold things, comparing, reexamining papers and photos, so I have materials stored and organized alphabetically in file folders.  My first step was to make a family file folder for the surname of each of my four grandparents: Andrews Family, Myren Family, Perkinson Family, and Vaughan Family.  I then made a separate file (surname followed by first and middle name) for both of my parents and each of my four grandparents.  The Andrews Family folder comes first, followed alphabetically by the other files of Andrews surnames.   Because I use the same basic organizational structure with my paper files as well as my scanned documents and photos stored on my laptop, it is relatively easy for me to locate things.

What started as ten paper file folders now numbers many more.  As my research leads me to new surnames, I add a Surname Family File for that branch of my tree.  I continue to use a Surname Family File for information about  several family members found in one source such as a copy of a census page listing three related families as neighbors or a group photo of a family.  I also use the Surname Family File to keep miscellaneous family information that doesn't pertain to just one family member (like directions to a family cemetery) as well as a place to keep single bits of information I find about an ancestor.   As I find more information about an individual, that person ends up with his own file once I have several things related specifically to just him or his immediate family.  

Topical Approach: Lisa Louise Cooke of Genealogy Gems Podcast has a different organizational structure, one that focuses more on types of documents saved rather than saving by individuals' names.  You can learn more about her approach here including some good tips for organizing family photos on your hard drive.

Chronological Approach: Another blogger, Michelle Goodrum, has a number of posts about organizing an extensive collection of family papers on her blog The Turning of Generations.  Goodrum uses a chronological approach for organizing boxes of documents, photos, etc., belonging to her father.

Rome wasn't built in a day, and you won't have everything perfectly organized in a day either.  As your collection of things grows, you may want to reconsider or tweak how you do things.  I know I have.  Good luck, and Happy Dewey Decimal Day!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Using Online Family Trees

Thank goodness for the Internet.  It provides me with many ways to research my family history, among them seeing online family trees that list some of the very people I am researching.

Sometimes when I take a serious look at one of these online trees, I find dates, children, or other information that I had been seeking.   Because someone cited their sources with that online tree, I also learn about new places to look for my family's history.  Other times, I find information that seems to be incorrect - a reversed order of names for my Grandmother Myren, children born years after the death of their father, very different birth or death dates, the list goes on.  Then I'm left wondering what to do with such differences in information or questionable data.

When I come across an online family tree with new or questionable information, rather than immediately adding the information to my family tree,  I print out the new data and keep it in a "Check On" folder.  Later, I will look further into the information that has citations, sometimes finding new data that I will add and cite in my family tree. 

If the only source for information on an online tree is another online tree whose source is another online tree ..., I personally look at this as unsourced data because  I have no idea where it originally came from.  No source means that  my confidence in using that information is greatly diminished.  Instead, I will use the unsourced information to develop new research goals for my personal research.  Then, when I find sources to validate this new information, I can add it to my tree with confidence (and source citations).   I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel, but I want to be sure that what I share about my family is accurate, not conjecture or unsubstantiated information.

The authors of The Official Guide to have this to say about online family trees:
This information is provided by individual submitters.  Evaluation of the accuracy of the information is left up to you. ... [It] only provides clues and contacts for your further research - not proof of a pedigree or a family history.
Even has a similar caveat relating to its Public Member Trees: 
These trees are voluntarily submitted by Ancestry users like you. We take all tree data "as is" and cannot guarantee the completeness, accuracy, or timeliness of the information contained in this database. 
It is worth remembering as we look at shaking Ancestry leaves or other online family trees that they can be a start but not the end of our research.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

What Runs in Your Family?

Sitting on my piano is the metronome that used to belong to my grandmother.  She was an accomplished pianist, church organist, and piano teacher, and I often think of her whenever I hear someone playing beautiful piano music.  Grandmother Myren also had perfect pitch which meant that whenever she heard me miss a note as I was practicing my piano lessons, she would tell me, often from another room, "that should be a B flat, not B natural, Dearie".  A quick glance back at my music would always show me she was right.

It has been interesting to see how others in the family seem to have inherited grandmother's musical talents and abilities.  My parents saw that I took piano lessons once I had Grandmother's OK on this while my brother played in the band through high school and has a collection of instruments picked up at garage sales which he has taught himself to play.

Among Grandmother's younger descendants, I have a son whose self-taught guitar playing helped him meet his wife.  And then, there's the youngest grandchild who displays a gentle touch as she places her fingers on the piano keys, beaming when she hears the notes she plays.  It really seems as if some musical abilities have been passed down from Grandmother.

My husband's father talked of being a fifth-generation blacksmith in the Nelson family.  Although none of his children followed this trade for a living or a hobby, he has two sons who are mechanical engineers, two engineer grandsons, and a great grandson who looks as if he might be heading in that direction also.  The same fabrication and analytical skills of the village blacksmith just find new outlets in our current society.

As we watch our children grow, we may see similar talents from our ancestors appearing.  This could be a good time to help today's generation relate in a new way to ancestors with whom they share a common skill or aptitude.  What runs in your family?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Some Genealogy ABCs

A is for ANCESTOR.  Ancestors are those people with whom we have a direct blood relationship.  This includes our parents, our grandparents, our great grandparents (GGrandparents), great great grandparents (GGGrandparents) etc.  If you do the math, this means that researching back ten generations (about 250 years) will show you have 1024 ancestors!  Before you panic, temper this fact with the awareness that very few people are ever able to research all their ancestors this far back.  Envision this number and you can see how descriptive the term family tree really is.

D is for DESCENDANT.  Descendants are those individuals who have a direct blood relationship with those born after them: children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, etc.  Looking again at ten generations in a family, an individual living back in the late 1700s could have hundreds to thousands of descendants, all depending upon each individual's fertility and longevity.  Like me, you may find one relative in the 1800s who had 24 children and others who died without issue (childless) so descendancy charts won't have a standard shape like an ancestor chart does.

R is for RELATIVE.  Relatives are our "kin", to use a good old Southern term.  Besides our ancestors and descendants, it is also our nieces, great nephews, sisters-in-law, step-brothers, grand uncles, and that fourth cousin twice removed on our father's side.  These people won't all show up on a family tree, but they are still a part of our family and may provide more interesting stories to share.

Check out the extensive Genealogy Glossary on  This way when you read of a great grandmother being referred to as a relict, you'll know it wasn't saying she was really old, just that she was a widow. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

I'm Thankful For ...

Researching your family history is rarely ever a solo effort.  It involves other people, different places, and stepping back into history.  Here are a few things for which I am thankful as I have been researching this year.

I'm thankful for meeting a third cousin who lives across the country from me. We met online, e-mailed, and shared photos and copies of family letters.  Now we each know more about our family.

I'm thankful for Lisa Louise Cooke whose Genealogy Gems Podcast convinced me to start writing this blog.  And I really appreciate those of you who have responded favorably to it.

I'm thankful for the fantastic volunteers who transcribed the 1940 census so that it is available for anyone to search online for FREE.  Thanks also for those organizations who worked together to help this come about - USGenWeb,, FindMyyPast, the National Archives, and others.

I'm thankful for those who saved old letters, photos, and other mementos.  This is the stuff of everyday life that helps the past come alive.

I'm thankful for the knowledgeable and helpful people at the Manuscript and Rare Book Library at Emory University in Atlanta.  Their web site had information about how to find the place, where to park, etc., and the box of Camp Family letters I planned to study was waiting for me when I checked in.  Thanks also for lending me a pencil when I had forgotten mine.

Finally, I've thankful for all I have learned from my family, those with me today, and those whom I "meet" through researching.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Martha (And Others) To The Rescue

Leave it to Martha Stewart to have a variety of ways to display family tree information so attractively.  One of my favorite ideas from her web site is a large tree painted on the wall of a child's playroom.  "Parents" perch as owls on a branch and family members are birds on the tree.  Imagine the fun for a child in seeing more birds added to the tree to celebrate a birth or a marriage in the family.

In the Make a Family Tree portion of her web site, she also has instructions for making photo cards of family members.  I especially like the one showing several generations of women in the family.

Both my daughters-in-law had had creative ways to show family pictures to our grandchildren.  One used several dollar store photo albums filled with pictures of different family members.  An album like this could also hold postcards or other items that can be used to share a family story.  The other keeps a large collage photo frame filled with family photos propped on the floor at a crawling and now walking level.  These are both simple ways to help the next generation see that they are part of a larger family.

If you are into crafts and home decor, you might visit my Pinterest board Celebrating Families.  There are a lot of simple ideas (all developed by some wonderfully creative people) for both genealogy and family tree related craft projects.

The research we do about our family uncovers a lot of facts and stories and sometimes accumulations of letters, photos, and other memorabilia .  We can share these things  in different ways and also help others strengthen their connections to the family and their places within it.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

WHERE Did You Find That? Citations

When researching your family, it is important to record what source was used to gather the facts you have recorded.  The way we record the specifics of a source is the citation, i.e. the author, title, publisher, web site url, date accessed, etc.

A lot of help is available for writing citations.  First, if you are recording facts using a genealogy software program, good software will provide a template where you insert data, and the software will then generate a citation for the fact you have entered into your software program.  Family Tree Magazine even has a handy "Source Documentation Cheat Sheet".  You can download the pdf file here.

The Internet has links to a number of short, easy to follow guides for writing citations.  I really like the simple, two page guide done by Thomas MacEntee on High-Definition Genealogy's web site.  You might find it convenient to download the pdf file here then laminate it for referral as you work.   Genealogical Publishing Company publishes similar laminated cards to help in writing citations.  These show the basic components of information included in a citation and how citations for different types of sources are written.

Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace by Elizabeth Shown Mills is considered to be the authority on genealogical citation.  Perhaps your local library has a copy of this 800+ page book you can consult for assistance in writing citations.  The book (also available as a purchased pdf download) covers not just print material but also the great variety of sources where we find information.

Confession time:  When I first started recording information about my family, I wasn't as complete in citing the sources I used.  I had a lot of simple citations like "1880 Census".  Later when I needed to recheck data, I sometimes had problems locating my original source.  Now I try to write better citations so it is easier for me or anyone else to locate and use the information I find.

Correctly written citations aren't so we get an "A" on our research.  They are so we know specifically what information was used, where that information was located, and when it was accessed, all parts of documenting our family story.

Monday, November 12, 2012

WHERE did you find that? Sources

The answer to this question is referred to as  the source  of my information.  Another family member may want to know where you found something, a distant relative might be interested in looking at your branch of the family and its information, or you could even want to recheck your data at a later time.  Whatever the case, it is important to have sources for those facts you record about your family.

Sources can come from many places.  Here are just a few.
  • Official records such as census records, vital records (birth, marriage, death), deeds, wills, military records, church and baptismal registers, etc.
  • Photographs, videos and DVDs of individuals, places, or events
  • Letters, e-mails
  • Notes taken while interviewing someone
  • Newspapers, magazines, journal articles
  • Books and similar holdings of libraries, research centers, and museums
I deliberately didn't list the Internet as a source.  The Internet is just a means of locating sources, like visiting a library, but is not a source in and of itself.  That brings up another frequently used term, repository.  The repository is the place where the source actually is maintained.  I've found a family history book digitized online on the HeritageQuest web site.  This book  is also available through GoogleBooks and at several public libraries, all different repositories for the same source.'s Genealogy Glossary defines source as "the document, record, publication, manuscript, etc. used to prove a fact".  Attaching sources of information to our family history conveys that we are interested in recording facts, even if they aren't what we expected.  Sources also help us and others distinguish facts from family lore or speculation.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Who ARE these people?

Perkinson Family, Christmas 1926
MPN personal collection

Some years ago my mother gave me a copy of one of those family pictures filled with aunts, uncles, cousins, all sitting on my father's Grandmother Perkinson's front porch.  I could spot my dad, aunts, and grandparents.  My mother recognized most of the people, but my left-to-right list of the family still had some blanks.  Thankfully, one of my aunts was able to identify everyone and even set the date (Christmas 1926).  I love that picture, especially when I come across information about these same aunts, uncles, and cousins.  It is great to be able to put a face with a name.

If you have similar pictures, see how completely you can identify the 5 Ws, the who, what, when, where, and why of a picture.  Recently my husband came across a picture of his mother with her brothers, sisters, and some in-laws.  It was wonderful to finally get all the names recorded and put together with that picture.  Sometimes, sadly, there is no one who actually recognizes those in a photograph, but it will help people now and in the future if we at least try. 

Sharing some "Who ARE these people" photos with other family members may reap rewards because rarely does one family member have all the information.  It is also just as helpful to identify people in similar pictures we take today.  No one wants a family picture taken at our child's wedding or the group shot of a cousins' fishing trip to fall into the "Who ARE these people" category years from now.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but sometimes without names and other basic information, it may not be nearly so great a story.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Census Tips - We're Only Human

We use census records for a lot of basic information about our ancestors and relatives, but sometimes what we find leaves us with more questions.  I found one relative whose birth date seemed to change with each census!  On several census records, he had different birth years recorded as well as an age listed that indicated yet a third possible birth year.  Another person I was researching, according to different census records, was born in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, more questionable data.

How can we analyze conflicting data in an official government record?  First, notice who gave the information to the census taker.  Some records indicate an (X) by the name of the person supplying the information for the census.  Maybe Uncle Jim thought his sister-in-law who lived with them was born in North Carolina rather than South Carolina, and that was how he answered the census taker's question.  An answer of "Carolina" or "Dakota Territory"  could be recorded as different states.  Other errors could come if the census taker used ditto marks for the birthplaces of family members, perhaps assuming that everyone was born in the same state or country.

Variations in the spelling of names could reflect the literacy of the person giving the information or just be the way the census taker heard or spelled a name.

Some discrepancies in birth dates are really based on when the census was recorded. Not every US census has been in April of the enumeration year. Perhaps what looks like a difference in a person's age is really based on when her actual birth date was and when the census was recorded.

Finally, there's the matter of handwriting.  Bless those census takers who had neat, precise handwriting.  Others obviously did not.  A 9 can look like a 4 or an 8, a 7 like a 2, all of which can cause problems if I only look at one census year.  For several years I have done volunteer transcription of census and other genealogical records for free database projects.  Transcribers attempt to record data as accurately as possible, but we realize that what is seen by us might not be what was actually written.

After all we're only human - information givers, census takers, and transcribers.  It makes for one more reason to look for information in a variety of sources.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Census Tips - Reading Before and After

We can learn a lot about an individual by reading everything recorded on his census line.  We might also learn more by glancing at the rest of the names recorded on the census page listing your relative.  As your list of family names grows, you may find names of children listed near GreatGrandfather Jones as they married and started their own families or adult childen who began farming on part of the family land. 

In some of the research I've done, I discovered that a widow lived with a different family member as each census year came around.  And be sure to check the previous or following page of census records if your ancestor's record is at the beginning or end of a census page.  You might just find more family members on these pages.

While you are at it, browse through a few pages before and after your ancestor's census listing.  You may find other family members living in the area.  Doing this helped us learn a lot about my husband's Grandfather Padgett.  In the space of four census pages covering 35 families in the late 1800s, I found his teenage grandfather living with his widowed mother and the names of his brother and sisters, his first wife-to-be living with her family, his second and third wives-to-be (sisters) living with their parents, and the future first husband of his third wife.  All of this was before the days of texting, facebook, and the Internet, so your neighbors were your primary social circle.  When deaths occurred, as happened in the grandfather's life, his personal support was living close by.  Without looking at some extra census pages, we might not have had the same insight into the Padgett branch of the family tree.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Census Tips - Reading the Whole Entry

US Census records are one of the first places most people start looking for family information.  These records are available through a variety of resources including paid subscriptions such as as well as through free services like

Whenever possible, try to look at the original images of census records rather than just a listing in a database because the actual record image contains a variety of information recorded for the people listed.  Each census year sought to gather specific information so you can learn a lot about your ancestors by reading all the data recorded for them in several census years.  Here are some of the things you could learn by reading the entire entry for GreatGrandfather Jones in different census years:
  • name of the street and house number where he lived (then use Google Earth to see what that address looks like today)
  • age at time of the census, month and year of birth
  • marital status including how long he had been married
  • number of births and live children of his wife
  • occupation, sometimes name of employer
  • immigration and naturalization information
  • education and literacy information
  • veteran status
  • value of real estate with references to farm schedules and slave holdings
Taking those few extra minutes to read the entire entry for an ancestor can supply information that provides a fuller picture of that individual.  After all, family history isn't just about birth and death dates, it is about the "dash", what happened during a person's life.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Love Your Library

Pursuing your interest in genealogy and family history doesn't have to be expensive when you put your local public library high on your list of resources.  Here are just a few of the free resources available at my local library.

  • Online access to Heritage Quest - I can look at census records, read digitized family histories and other genealogical and historical materials, all from my home and at my convenience.
  • Library Edition - This has just been added for use at the library.  Now anyone can access millions of records and databases without having to purchase a personal subscription.  All I need is my library card.
  • Local history materials - If you're researching family living in the area, your local library is a great place to start.
  • Genealogy reference books - From information about my Mayflower ancestors to Civil War battles and naturalization, there is such a variety available.
  • Genealogy information books - There are books available for checkout or ebook download on many topics related to your research, again free.  I can even receive circulating materials from other libraries on interlibrary loan.
  • Genealogy magazines - My library subscribes to a number of excellent periodicals filled with helpful tips and information.  I try to browse through one whenever I'm there.
  • Help -  Our local genealogical society has volunteers helping once a month in the library's genealogy collection.  Also, in visiting public libraries in other areas, I've found the library staff to be very helpful in my research.
Your public library probably has similar materials and services.  Spend some time there seeing what is available to you.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Special Coffee Mug

Hanging on the mug rack in my kitchen is a gray coffee mug with a picture of basket of grapes and grape vines.  That mug was picked out 30 years ago by one of my sons as a Christmas gift for his grandmother.  (Has it really been that long ago?)  He selected that specific mug because his grandmother had a row of grape vines in her back yard, and he liked going out with her to pick grapes.  My mother loved that mug and drank her morning coffee from it for many years; today I often have an afternoon cup of tea in it.  Someday I'll pass the mug on to my son or one of his children.  Even if it only serves to hold pencils on someone's desk, I want the recipient to know the story of "Grandmother's Grape Vines", of the woman who loved her garden, and of that little boy who spied that mug at a school fundraiser.

The family stories we share can be as simple as telling about a coffee mug.  If I thought my family expected a 300-page tome of family history as the result of my hours of research, I'd be in a state of panic, but it is easy to reflect on that coffee mug.  I can write a few paragraphs, add a picture of the mug and one of my mother, putting it all in a "Family Keepsakes" scrapbook I've thinking of making.  This way, it won't be just an old coffee mug from Nana's house, it can be a connection between generations.  

Are there some small stories you want to share with your family?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Heading in the Right Direction: Dates

Tip 1:  As you come across dates to record in your information, it is good practice to record them in standard format: day of the month, month, and four-digit year, 18 Oct 2012.  This way there isn't confusion as to whether something happened on April 11 or November 4 for a birth date written 4-11-52.  It is also clear that something happened in 1952 rather than 1852.

Tip 2:  Sometimes the date you locate is exact, a marriage license signed by the Justice of the Peace on September 5, 1926.  Record this fact in standard format, 5 Sept 1926.  Other times, however, a date isn't so precise.  Often census records only show a person's age at the time of the census, i.e., your uncle Jimmy Smith was listed as 17 in the 1930 census.  In this case, make use of the term circa and record his birth date as c1913 or ca1913.  Later if you find his exact birth date, you can record that date in standard format. had additional information on writing dates using standard format.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Getting Started ...

source: flickr, JakeandLindsay Sherbert's photostream
For many there comes a time when it becomes really important to us to learn and document more about our family, its history, its characters, maybe even some of its secrets.  For me, it came as I was helping my mother move into an assisted living apartment and spending time with her sorting through years of stuff at home.  For others, it might come with the passing of a loved one and the stories that had been shared.  Still others feel the urge to know once personal responsibilities change and time is available for exploring or a desire to learn more about something you overheard at the family Christmas dinner.  Regardless of your reason, you've now joined those who want to strengthen our connections with the past and share them with others.

But, gulp, how do you start?  A common sense approach is to start with what you know.  Dig out that blank journal you received years ago, pick up an extra notebook at the store, or open up a word processing document; the format isn't as important as the intent right now.

Once you have something in front of you to record data, start a page on yourself, where you were born, when, important dates and places in your life.  Next start a page for each of your parents, listing the same types of information, then try to add pages for your grandparents.  Now, add some questions to which you would love to have answers and maybe some ideas about where to find those answers.  You're actually on your way.  You have family lineage information (names, dates, places), a research plan (questions you want answered), and the beginning of a research log (where you look for answers to your questions).  Once you find an answer and record information and where you found it, you will be citing sources.  The first time you mention to a family member what you're up to, you've started to share with others.  If you've gotten this far, you're probably hooked!

I'll love reading what prompted you to start researching your family.  See, you'll be sharing already.