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.