Archive for the ‘Genealogical Tips’ Category

In praise of baby-steppers

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

I work at MyHeritage, so you might think I’d be a dedicated, relentless genealogist who spends many hours each month on my own family’s roots. My long-standing commitment is more than casual, and I expect to enjoy RootsTech this week as much as last year. However, my life and my chosen pursuits never seem to allow much time or energy for my own research. I know many people, even in my own neighborhood, who work much harder and accomplish far more.

I still like to think there’s room for me and others like me in the vast, welcoming community of genealogists. More importantly, I think I’m justified in feeling I’ve accomplished something worthwhile, even when it’s not very much.

So, as a tribute to those who enjoy genealogy but advance only in occasional baby steps, let me share what I’ve accomplished in January 2012. For some researchers it might be only an afternoon’s work, but by my standards it was a productive and satisfying month.

First, I found a photo of my maternal grandmother, c. 1918. It hadn’t been missing for generations, only for 18 months, since my family moved across town. But I had missed it. It was in the last box to be unpacked. I scanned it for later use and posted a low-resolution version on Facebook. (more…)

New Genealogical Publishing Company Content From Kentucky and Ohio

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

This week’s major collection at includes new databases from
Genealogical Publishing Company. The databases include content from Kentucky and

Kentucky Marriages, 1797-1865
(online 4/13/2009)
This is a valuable compilation of abstracts of marriage notices. Listed chronologically,
each entry gives the name of the bride and groom and the marriage date, and many
include the place of residence and parents’ names. The source of the information
is provided for each entry. About 8,000 names of brides and grooms are in the index.

National Society, Colonial Daughters of the Seventeenth Century, Inc.: Lineage Book,
(online 4/10/2009)

National Society, Colonial Daughters of the Seventeenth Century: Lineage Book, 1896-1999

(online 4/9/2009)

Membership in the National Society, Colonial Daughters of the
17th Century is based upon descent from 17th-century ancestors who imperiled their
lives and interests in various colonial wars from May 1607 to December 1699, and
rendered other distinguished services. Between its establishment in 1896 and the
year 1999, the Society published eleven lineage books of its membership.

The 1989 and 1999 Lineage Books are similar in arrangement, but their contents differ
owing to the passage of time. Both volumes are divided into two parts: (1) A list
of living members and their qualifying ancestors, followed by (2) Brief sketches
of the roughly 2,500 17th-century ancestors, with the names of living members of
the organization, if any, descended from them. Society members are identified by
city and state of residence at the time of publication. Information provided in
the ancestor sketches include one or more dates, something about the individual’s
military or other service, and town and colony inhabited. The contents of the two
books differ, of course, owing to the discovery of new ancestors, and because of
the deaths of some members and the enrollment of new ones over the decade in question.
Both books also feature historical essays about the organization and its founders,
the Society’s full-color insignia, lists of officers, and more. The 1999 book also
concludes with a glossary of terms found in the text.

If you have been stymied in your effort to trace your ancestry back to the 17th
century, this excellent two-volume set holds out a splendid new opportunity to do

“Second Census” of Kentucky 1800
(online 4/14/2009) Free
for Ten Days!

This “second census” of Kentucky is an alphabetical list of 32,000 taxpayers and
is based on original tax lists on file in the Kentucky Historical Society. Information
given includes the county of residence and the date of the tax list in which the
individual is listed. The genealogist finding a name of interest can then refer
to the tax list (all are on microfilm), where he or she will find such information
as the amount of land owned and its location, the number of individuals in various
categories attached to the household, and other background information.

Ohio Valley Genealogies
(online 4/15/2009)

The following databases from the Dundurn Group containing Canadian content were
launched this week, but are not included in the Major Collection:

Family Treasures

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

By Whitney McGowan,, Inc.

I have kept many of the gifts my grandparents have given me. For example, my paternal grandma loves antiques and has collected many roomfuls of treasures. Occasionally when I go over to visit her, she will let me go through her antique jewelry and pick something out. I treasure these valuables because my grandma gave them to me. I also have many treasures from my Grammie (my mom’s mom). She has written me many beautiful, heartfelt letters. She has also sewn my name on towels, crocheted dish towels for me, and has given me the recipes for many of my favorite foods and desserts that she makes. When I look at the jewelry, or the towels, or even read through some of the letters I remember some of the memories I have shared with my grandmothers.

I think I am not unique in having sentiments in this area. For example here are a few excerpts, in their own words, from others who shared their thoughts on owning simple treasures from their loved ones:

When my grandfather passed away I told my mother I wanted just one treasure from my grandparents’ estate: the Toas-Tite sandwich maker. I’m sure I was the only grandchild to make this request. Out of the chaos of sorting through half a century of my grandparents’ belongings, my mother eventually unearthed my inheritance. On that day I became a rich man.  Almost sixteen inches long, with a round four-and-three-quarter-inch sandwich holder at the end, this kitchen collectible was the well-spring of hundreds of perfectly circular grilled cheese sandwiches made by my grandmother in her Cedar Rapids, Iowa, home. Manufactured sometime in the 1940s by Bar-B-Bun, Inc., of Cincinnati, Ohio, the Toas-Tite has two black wooden handles held together with a metal loop on the end to keep them closed and, well, tight. The face of an almost hysterically smiling woman adorned the cover of the manufacturer’s original box. Next to the happy chef was the sales pitch: “Make a luscious sealed in hot drip prof (sic) toasted sandwich.” Prof, stood for “proof” I imagine, and “hot drips” meant lots of saturated fat. The beauty behind Toas-Tite’s unique design was the ability to make grilled cheese sandwiches, toast, and hamburgers over an outdoor campfire or, in my case, over a gas flame in Grandmother’s kitchen. …No, the treasures my grandparents passed on to me are more valuable than shares of stock and acres of land. For how do you inventory gardens, food, family, and the love of simple pleasures? Inheriting these qualities will take the rest of my life and there is no guarantee that I will succeed. No wonder that the first time I used the Toas-Tite I burned the grilled cheese sandwiches. Just as I feared — it’s not easy as it looks. – Stephen Lyons,

What do I really treasure? Many people often paid my grandparents with silver dollars. You don’t see that any more, it’s too inconvenient to carry those big pieces of metal now. Of course you didn’t need to carry near as many of them in those days. Silver dollars are a special memory to me for another reason: they were grandma and grandpa’s savings. They put aside the silver dollars that came into the shop to purchase special things. They also used these silver dollars to give to their grandchildren on their birthdays. I still have a couple of those old silver dollars they gave me. No, they are not collector’s pieces, they are not worth a whole lot more than a dollar to anyone else, but to me they hold memories and are priceless. –

What heirlooms or family treasures have value in your life? Preserving these treasures can help you remember your loved ones and the times you shared with them. If you have heirlooms or special family treasures from one of your loved ones whom you never met, try learning more about them on, a treasure-trove of information.

Why Be Concerned About Great Grandpa’s Health?

Monday, December 8th, 2008

Over the holiday break, I had the opportunity to talk with my aunt who was adopted when she was a child. She is now in her 40’s. A few years ago, she decided she wanted to try to find her real parents. My aunt has had many health problems. In fact, she has been a multiple kidney transplant recipient and has experienced dialysis, and a variety of other challenges.

The first time she needed a kidney transplant her adopted sister actually matched up and was able to donate her kidney to her. It was a great blessing! When my aunt was telling me about the search to find her mother (and she was able to locate her – although she found her a little too late because her mother had passed away a year prior to that time.), she said that one of the main reasons she was interested in finding out who her real parents are was because she wanted to better understand their health history. In fact, she was very curious to know whether her mother or father also had kidney problems. As my aunt was speaking with me, I started asking myself, “What do I know about my family’s health history? and “Why should this information be important to me?”

During the rest of this article, I would like to discuss the importance of knowing the health history of your family.

Why Should I Know My Family’s Health History?

Knowing your family’s health history is important for a variety of reasons. Oftentimes diseases and health problems can run in families. For example, if your grandmother has high blood pressure, your mother may also have high blood pressure. In fact, your blood pressure may be high as well. This is true for many health problems such as cancer, heart problems, diabetes, etc. If you have had a medical examination, you may recall that before the doctor treats you, you are often asked to fill out a stream of papers documenting your medical history.

Acting Surgeon General Steven K Galson, M.D., M.P.H., declared Thanksgiving 2008 as the fifth annual National Family History Day. When you are gathered with your family for the holidays (perhaps for Christmas, since Thanksgiving has past), Dr. Galson encourages you to talk with your family and/or write down your families health history. He claims that by taking the time to do this, you may ensure a longer, healthier future together.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services has created a program to allow you to create on the Web a personalized family health history report. Here is the link if you want to try it out:

I decided to fill it out, and here are the results:

Both of my grandparents passed away from heart problems, so heart disease is something that I (as well as my family members) should pay attention to. If heart disease runs in your family, here are some ways to prevent it:

1. Participate in a form of physical activity each day.
2. Do not smoke. If you do smoke, take steps to stop smoking.
3. Eat healthy: Limit unhealthy fats and cholesterols, eat lots of fruits and vegetables and whole grains

How Do I Learn More About My Family Health History?

The best way to find out about your family health history is simply to talk with your family. Ask your parents about the health history of your grandparents and great grandparents. If you are a parent, talk to your children about your family health history.

What Was Voting Like For Your Ancestors???

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

By Whitney Ransom McGowan,
Election time is coming up on November 4 in the United States. Although voting may seem commonplace to you, what was voting like for your ancestors? Did they vote? How did they vote? Did any of your ancestors run for office? Lets take a look at voting throughout a variety of countries and centuries.

Did you know that in Ancient Greece individuals had a negative election? This meant that male landowners were asked to vote for the individual they most wanted to exile for ten years. If any politician received more than 6,000 of these votes, the one with the largest number was actually exiled! If there wasn’t a politician who received 6,000 votes, then all of the politicians were safe.

In the late 1860s, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were passed, extending voting rights to former slaves. Although these amendments were passed, many blacks could not actually vote until the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1960.

If your ancestors lived up until the mid-1800s, voting was done quite differently. First, it was not secret. Voters would be sworn in and voice their opinions. The secret ballot box was useful because it was said to increase voter participation; however, there were some problems with fraud because there was no direct verification that what the voter intended to vote was actually followed.

If your ancestors were born in 1971, a new amendment was passed lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. At this time the Vietnam War was in process. This was a time when 18-year-olds were drafted to the war and were unable to vote.

How was voting for your female ancestors? In 1920, the 19th Amendment was passed in the United States, giving women the right to vote. Women born in New Zealand could vote in 1893. Women born in Australia could vote in 1902. Female citizens living in Switzerland received the right to vote in the 1970s. Women could vote in Finland in 1906, in Norway in 1913, in the Soviet Union in 1917, in Poland in 1918, in Germany and Sweden in 1919, and in Ireland in 1922.

Today the voting age in many countries throughout the world is age 18 (Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Republic of Ireland, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom (note this is not a comprehensive list). However, in some countries the ages are different for voting. For example, if you are 15 you can vote in Iran. If you are 16 years of age, you are eligible for voting in Brazil. You can also vote in Japan at age 20.

Have you ever tried to learn more about voting and your ancestors at A keyword search for the word “voting” at yields 184,581 matches in 2,982 indexes and 797,649 matches in 5,474 indexes for the keyword “vote.” Check out today and see what voting was like for your ancestors.


Finding Identity through the Past: Genealogy Meets Public History

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

By Amanda Forson,

Part of a nation’s culture is its history. When groups of people forget where they come from, they lose a part of their identity. Seeking to re-create the sense of self, and their place within the general social framework, they often start by looking to a local, individual level, researching their own family’s history. Since family could be considered the basic unit of society, learning how one’s family fits into history may be the most direct route to establishing a sense of self. The process of learning how one’s family fits into the larger realm of history is one aspect of public history.Public history is “a joint endeavor in which historians and their various publics [collaborate] in trying to make the past useful to the public.”i Although taught at an academic level in various undergraduate and graduate-level programs , public history is a relatively new field, with its most discernable roots going back to the 1970s. This form of history usually includes experiential modes and models that may or may not be historically accurate. Collective memoryii is the general term for the modes and models of how people think about history. This “memory” is shaped by all sorts of different factors, many of which come from popular media, museums, and going to places where something of a historic nature occurred.

For someone beginning to have historical interest, a normal beginning introduction into history is popular media. Easier than hunting down and reading primary documents, movies often become a building block upon which to base certain parts of collective memory. A few examples from the film genre (listed in semi-chronological order) include: The Ten Commandments, The Passion of the Christ, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Braveheart, The Mission, The Three Musketeers, Last of the Mohicans, 1776, The Patriot, Amadeus, Amazing Grace, Gone With the Wind, Dances With Wolves, Far and Away, Roots (various time periods), Lawrence of Arabia, The Last Emporer, Ghandi, Fiddler on the Roof, The Grapes of Wrath, The Sound of Music, Schindler’s List, Life Is Beautiful, A Beautiful Mind, Apocalypse Now, Forrest Gump, and Hotel Rwanda. Unfortunately, a bibliographical list of sources is not often found at the end of movie credits, even though a few libraries, archives, and people may be credited with their efforts on the film.

Some examples from the “see the sites” category include: Colonial Williamsburg, Manassas/Bull Run, The Smithsonian, Mount Vernon, Ellis Island, The Winchester Mystery House, the South Street Seaport in Manhattan, The Hermitage, and many other places. For a list of the current designated historic places in the United States, check the National Register of Historic Places. For outside the United States, see the United Nation’s (UNESCO) World Heritage sites.

All of these examples help set the mental constructs for historical events that affected the lives of the people that are being researched. Public history includes genealogy in its local history and personal history aspects. These may be considered the “fun” part of history-where documents prove or disprove family stories and the research connects the family members to particular historical events.

A few organizations developed with the intent of helping with the professionalism and standardization efforts in the public history field include the National Council on Public History , the American Association of Museums, American Historical Association , and the American Association for State and Local History. The NCPH has excellent resources for specific educational programs and intern pursuits. The AHA is an overall bed of knowledge for anyone in any historical field. While specifically geared towards museums, the AAM has an intense array of links to help with making a museum exceptionally relevant to its audience. The AASLH is geared towards aiding historical-based programs and companies in finding ways of developing their strengths to fullest potential, including computer software and kits to make programs run more easily. All of these organizations help with different aspects of the historical field, and are the background behind what is seen in museums, and the experiences that help drive the public’s vision of their collective history and consciousness.

Stanton, Cathy. “”What is Public History?” Redux,” National Council on Public History Webpage. [Accessed 7 October 2008.]
“Collective Memory” Wikipedia .
[Accessed 8 October 2008.]

Map It Out: Using Maps to Answer Family History Questions

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

By Sherry Lindsay,, Inc.

It is often said that in beginning research on a family, you need three types of basic information: a name, a date, and a place. In solving research problems it is generally important to know the name of the place, where it is located on a map, and perhaps how it relates (or related) to the places that surrounded it. However, learning even more about a place through mapping can be a great boon to solving family history puzzles and learning more about the ancestor’s way of life.

In researching a place, it is very helpful to find maps of the location from the time your ancestors lived there. Sometimes it is difficult to find such maps, and sometimes even when those maps are available they can be difficult to decipher. I tend to prefer a simple street map, particularly if I am researching a non-rural area.

Using the map, locate the address where the family lived using a record like a directory or census. From there, it is important to locate the local civic or religious buildings and jurisdictions. You can usually use a research guide to help you identify things like churches, and then you can use the Internet or other research materials to identify the location of these of these other places.

If you don’t know much about the family, this process of mapping it out can help you choose which records would be most likely to have information about your family. For example, it can help you identify which church your ancestors attended, which cemetery they were most likely buried in, and other sorts of useful information. Of course, you’ll want to take into account the family’s religion, if you do already know it. Knowing the locations of all the Catholic churches in the area won’t do you much good if your ancestors had been staunch Methodists for generations.

Mapping can also be crucial in helping you identify how your family fits into the extended family. If you are researching a family with a common name, using the census and directories can help you identify which other people with that common name are most likely to be related. This is not a sure-fire way of identifying family members, but since families often lived near each other, knowing where all the Browns were in a county or city can help you pin down which ones are most likely to be a part of the extended family. Perhaps you will find that family members lived near each other because they divided family land amongst themselves. Or perhaps several branches of an extended family followed each other in a similar migration pattern. Using maps will help you identify these sorts of scenarios.

Not only can mapping help you solve research problems, it can also make a visit to the place all the more exciting. There are probably numerous places where your ancestors lived that would make for a great family trip. Mapping out the location will help you better utilize your time in that place and help you see how the place has changed since your ancestor lived there.

Recording Family Stories in “Fits and Starts”

Friday, June 6th, 2008

By Sherry Lindsay,, Inc.

It is never too early to start interviewing your relatives to record their histories, but one day it might be too late.

When I was a child I loved listening to my grandfather tell stories about his extraordinarily interesting life, and by the time I was about sixteen I had decided that I needed to start recording the stories-not necessarily audio-recordings, but some sort of written record of his experiences in Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Mexico, Iran, and various places across the United States. Of course, I didn’t get going right away; then I started college 1,500 miles away from him, and, although I kept in good contact with him, I still did not work on recording the fantastic stories he told me.

During my junior year of college I took a class on writing family histories. Upon signing up for the class I knew that I would finally be writing my grandfather’s history. Unfortunately, within three weeks of my starting the class my grandfather was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and I was finally struck with the realization that I had wasted a lot of time.

Of course, on the up-side, I was extremely fortunate to have about six good months where I could call my grandfather and ask him questions about his life. As I wrote his history, though, the thought that I could have known and recorded more always lingered.

My intent in writing this is not to guilt-trip you into interrogating your elderly family members until every worthwhile personal and family history detail has been extracted from their memories. Rather, my intent is to help you realize that family histories can be written in pieces, in fits and starts if you will.

Just as you log details on your pedigree chart as you find them, you can record historic details of your family members as you hear them. Next time you get off the phone or come home from a visit with a family member (young or old-the earlier your start, the more you will accumulate) take a few moments to write down any interesting stories you may have heard. With time you will find that you have accumulated a great deal of family history data, and it will be ready for a cumulative story.

If your older family members are anything like mine, you may think that you’ve heard all the stories several times before, and if push came to shove you’d be able to record them all without the assistance of your relative. But why test the limits of your own memory? Writing down these histories in fits and starts won’t take much time at all, and it will preserve the memory of those you love for generations to come.

How A Genealogy Should Be Written

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

By Amanda Forson,

Many genealogical researchers look for relatives and are hungry to know how to share their hard-earned findings. What is a model for a good genealogy?

The database, known on the site as The Descendants of Lewis Hart and Anne Elliott, is a great model for a well-researched genealogy. Genealogies through the years have often been fabricated to give the contracted party legitimacy to govern. The fabrications frequently including references to ancient royalty, prophets of the Bible, and on occasion, even deity (be it Zeus, Christ, or otherwise).

While the author does not mean to offend those who cherish such genealogies, current research often disproves these lines quickly and without apology. Such genealogies are leads for current research but unless they can be proven with as-close-to-the-primary-source-as-possible documents, then they are unlikely to be accurate. Page after page throughout the book, The Descendents of Lewis Hart and Anne Elliott, a Godfrey Library database, shows primary documentation.

The narrative story comes alive because the documents are included in entirety, highlighting the family in question. The format is useful and favorable. Some highlights of the genealogy include transcribed documents, indexes of names of relatives and non-relatives, estate inventories, deeds, vital information, pictures of houses, etc.

When the book was published, it was the fashion to abbreviate states of the United States, so they may be overlooked as the formatting of the time. Present-day genealogies should always spell out names, especially since abbreviations can be confused between countries. The author of this book, Jared Sidney Torrance, was the founder of the city of Torrance, California, and was a real estate developer in Los Angeles, dying shortly before the establishment of a hospital in the Torrance area .

His genealogical interest first started at the age of sixty-three (1915-16), when he found letters from his mother. Mr. Torrance subsequently completed research for this book during the next five years, by using only a few hours a day. The genealogy was published two years following the researcher’s death, but as the explanatory notes at the beginning of the book indicate, the notes were included, and all that was needed for publication purposes was the final index.

Although not a professional genealogist, or a professional historian, Jared Sidney Torrance’s genealogical legacy is an organized, methodical book that is a model for future researchers. Especially considering that he did not use his entire lifetime in research, but did it a few hours at a time, he was able to produce a quality genealogical book worthy of inclusion in the Godfrey Library, and online through

“Jared Sidney Torrance,” [Accessed 12 May 2008.]

Tid-Bit Research Strategies

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

By Amanda Forson,
Find an ancestor in the Social Security Death index on by entering the first last name in the Quick Search form.

If your search yields too many results, use the Advanced Search form and specify a year (either the birth year or death year). If this does not bring up the desired ancestor�s name, remove the year and enter, instead, a location (state) where the person died. Once you find your ancestor, write down the information included in the results.

Part Two: Using the following link,, you have the option of either a computerized extract of the Social Security Application or the original. For direct access to the form for requesting the originals, go to: .

To purchase the originals (with the Social Security number, since you already found the SSN on day one,) the request will cost $27, equivalent to a Disney DVD.