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.