Archive for the ‘Genealogical Tips’ Category

Family Tree Magazine, Kids! Edition

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

Cemetery with children

By Amanda Forson,

As a follow-up to last week’s genealogical activities for kids, this week we highlight Family Tree Magazine, Kids Edition. This online magazine involves children in genealogically-based activities, teaching at a younger age how to start. The basics are the same as for beginning adults, but written for a level that older children can understand.

General areas for activity use are Family Tree Fun, Family Detective, Junior Toolkit, and a Teachers and Parents section, all of which are geared to help begin teaching children how to do research and how to help with fundamental skill levels in the field.

Family Tree Fun focuses on projects that kids can do with little supervision. Primarily, it is crafts and word searches.

Family Detective focuses also on projects, but is more about developing skills that will help with future research, while making the activities more-geared toward real family history hunting.

Junior Toolkit is all about forms, charts, books, and the paper goods necessary to perform progressive research.

Teachers and Parents- This section aids the parent or teacher who wants to help kids interested in family history with forms, charts, websites, books, etc.

In general the Kids! Edition of the popular magazine should prove a useful resource for parents, teachers, and kids especially as it grows.

Gen-Activities for Kids

Friday, April 4th, 2008

By Amanda Forson,

For anyone who works with small children or wants to help children and grandchildren understand their hobby (or profession), activities of a genealogical nature are a must.

The following sites help with ideas for activities for children, and can help them discover about their past and help out Mom and Dad, or Grandpa and Grandma, too!:


WorldGenWeb for Kids:

Genealogy Today, Jr.:

Forms and Documents for Kids:

Books for Children:

Have fun with your family and give kids a chance to help in finding their ancestors. Had my grandmother not been open to my questions, and been willing to talk about the family, I would not be writing this column. Family history is not simply for adults. Anyone interested in the topic of family history has to start sometime, and it is easier to start when a person is young.

Searching for Burial Places

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

By Amanda Forson,

While the Social Security death index available on is extremely useful, it does not give the place where a relative is buried. Why is this? Burial places are not reported as part of the Social Security Master List, from which the Social Security Death Index is created. In light of this statement, what is a person to do? How is one to find the place where a relative has been laid to rest?

The following places may aid in this search:

FindAGrave- User-generated, this site often has pictures to accompany a given person’s information, at the very least of the cemetery site, and at the best, of the grave, and possibly even the person in question. FindAGrave is part of WorldVitalRecords, and easy to search as part of the Quick Search searching option. This site offers cemetery searches by location, in the US and abroad. –

Cemetery Junction-

Cemeteries of the United States-

The Tombstone Transcription Project-

The Political Graveyard-
Resting places of politicians, large and small.

Hollywood Underground-
Final resting places for Hollywood celebrities.

Cyndi’s List-
Motherload of links for cemetery listings, history, and just about anything you can think of for cemeteries and funerals.

There is no site that is all-inclusive of every cemetery in existence, or previously in existence. Many old cemeteries have been lost to underbrush or simply due to neglect. Others have been moved as the price of land became greater than the need for the cemetery to be in that exact spot. Such is the case with many older cemeteries that were previously located in Manhattan and currently located in Queens, New York.

In the age of computer information, volunteering to do transcription projects for what is local to you aids everyone. If you cannot find the exact burial by a quick Google search, or by searching these sites, then use the Social Security Death Index on and call the cemeteries listed that are close to the burial place of the deceased. Further, try contacting the newspapers located near the area where a person died to see whether or not there was an obituary. Either of these options may yield good results.

Middle Names: How To Use Them and How Not to Use Them

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

By Amanda Forson,

Middle names are something that in some cultures can be genealogically golden, and in others can make research a pain. If performing Spanish research, for example, middle names are traditionally the lineage of the family through matriarchal lines.Modern trends have changed matters mildly depending upon the family, but in that culture’s research, having the middle names is a critical part of research.

American, British, and some other cultures also often use middle names, though usually limited to two or less middle names per individual. When performing searches on and for online genealogy in general, it is wise to note that a full name is often too much information with which to begin searching. Start with less information entered into search boxes versus more. Just because you know the information on an individual does not mean that everyone else does.

When trying to find information, bits and pieces mesh together to make the full picture. Another research may not know that (hypothetical) Jacob John Hamblin was born in Caroline County, Maryland on October 5, 1880. They may only know that there was a Jacob Hamblin from Caroline County, Maryland. If searching for “Jacob John Hamblin” there may be zero results, whereas Jacob Hamblin may come back with sixty or more. Bottom line: When searching, less is more.

On the other hand, if Jacob John Hamblin was born and died in October 1880, and had a little brother who was born Jacob James Hamblin, born 1882, then the middle names would be critical to searching for the right brother, and in making sure to differentiate between the two.

There are also cases where men or women were known by their middle names. In these cases, some documents may have them by their first and/or middle names. When searching for this information, do searches using both the first name, and then, separately, by the middle name with other search terms as needed.

Middle names can help or hurt research, but I mostly consider them useful for further leads more than cementing research in such a way as to hold up my research. When researching, remember to keep the mind open. When writing reports, histories, etc., narrow that openness to only what has been directly or indirectly proven.

If trying to research with an inflexible mindset, disaster strikes as resources are overlooked. “Keep the mind open, but not so open that the brain falls out!” (1.)

1. Paraphrased from James Oberg, NASA scientist and science fiction writer

Keeping Track of Passwords

Friday, March 7th, 2008

By Amanda Forson,

A number of subscribers have caught onto a practice of keeping track of passwords that may benefit others currently left in a quandary. Most drug stores or Wal-Mart have small, inexpensive address books that can be used to keep track of site passwords.

The only down-side is keeping track of the address book. So long as it is kept in the same place, and hopefully near the normal computer being used, if a home computer, or kept in a purse or pocketbook if the computer most often used is the library, surfing the Internet should be much easier utilizing this method.

Web sites can be kept in alphabetical order, and instead of phone numbers, or other blank spaces in the address book, the passwords can be entered.

Ask and Receive: How to Start Helping the Genealogical Researcher in Your Family

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

By Amanda Forson,

Most of the genealogical researchers that I am currently in contact with are novices who want to help with research, or any aspect of family history for their families, but have no idea where to start. After identifying who the person is in the family who keeps the records, the next thing to do is to ask what that person wants done. Often, the main family researcher will have been doing the research either completely alone or with very little help for multiple years. Finding new information and processing is their passion, and something that they guard with sanctity, often waiting to share the information and willing to send a lot of information to new researchers.

When trying to help with research, be sure to offer services first before trying to help with actual research. Possible services include but are not limited to, data entry of what has already been researched, paying for a needed document, or even simply showing support and interest. It is not unusual for a researcher to have completed years of research without anyone else in the family being interested. Lending an ear for a few hours is a great service for those who have had no one interested to whom they could tell the family stories.

Always treat researchers with respect. They have been doing a service to you and other family members, often without any acknowledgement or consideration, and have become the family expert through often grueling and exhilarating experiences. Let them share their stories along with the stories of the family, and DO NOT expect to become their researching partner overnight.

A confident researcher will often have multiple lines that need more researching. They can’t do everything by themselves, and a division of labor will help. If assigned a person to research, delve into the world that is genealogy and welcome to the thrills that come from connecting with family members on a closer, more intimate level. IF something is found, MAKE SURE that the original researcher is notified, so that both of you can find joy in this. If interest wanes, give the original researcher everything found thus far, and be considerate in showing appreciation for what they entrusted to you.

Even if the primary researcher only allows you to do data entry, this is a right and privilege for them to extend, and something that must be graciously accepted if accepted at all. Trust and genealogy do not readily assert themselves in the same sentence. Most genealogists do not trust other’s research unless they have double-checked sources and verified the information for themselves. Although normally a very honest and well-meaning group, even being allowed to do data entry is an honor and needs to be treated as such. Try not to expect pay for services. The primary family researcher often is of an age where a fixed income does not allow for any outside expenditure. Besides, this is your family, too! As bits and pieces of family information are unfolded, be happy for what is received and look forward to the next step. There is always more to do, and good researchers will be happy for help once there is “proven interest.”

Tid-Bit Research Strategies- Finding Women on

Friday, February 1st, 2008

By Amanda Forson,

Most genealogists are used to seeing the maiden names of wives, mothers, sisters, etc., often forgetting that (at least in Western countries where the female surname is usually dropped in favor of the male) the woman would live most of her life under her husband’s surname. This is especially true in the South and other places where women’s property belonged to her husband or oldest son.

When searching for women, look for them with married names in addition to maiden names. Maiden names often only lasted for the first twenty to twenty-five years of a woman’s life. Few documents besides birth and marriage would list a woman’s maiden name otherwise. Look for married names for property transfers, obituaries, church records, etc. when searching for women’s records.

Don’t Forget Descendents

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Creating Family Newsletters for Coordinating Genealogical Efforts
By Amanda, Forson,

When searching for genealogical materials and information on ancestors, descendents of those ancestors are just as likely to have sources of information as a court house or obituary. Most genealogical database organizational programs are programmed to allow for addresses and telephone numbers of individuals. One of my favorite genealogical database programs, Legacy Family Tree, has a simple interface for keeping this information organized, and allows for using the information in an efficient and timely manner.

When in the Family View of the program, click on the house with phone icon directly below the person whose information you wish to enter. Fields available for the person include basic name and address along with two phone numbers, email address, and home page. Possible uses for this include family newsletters, family associations, birthdays, research, Christmas, holidays, and information can be tagged or made private.

RootsMagic also has similar functionality, though with an area for a secondary address, useful for “snow birds” or anyone who spends enough time in two separate areas to use both addresses on a regular basis.

Both programs can be used to create publications for the living about the dead, explaining what the most recent discoveries are, asking for help on certain tasks, and generally introducing the family to their ancestors and helping them understand what research has been done and how it got to that point. It is also useful when trying to contact relatives previously unknown. Sending copies of the family newsletter to new possible family members (those who are engaged, or those to whom one is reaching out in contact) also helps with opening communication between families members long distanced.

Keeping family members informed is an extremely important and useful way of aiding research, and of helping to make sure that relatives understand why aid may be needed in purchasing documents for future research. Consider it a family research report without excessive formality.

TidBit Research Strategies:Censuses-Check The Other Page

Friday, January 11th, 2008

By Amanda Forson,

When a family member is on the top or the bottom of another page, check the next page as well. Whether or not there seems to be other family members, a thorough researcher will check the next or previous page to be sure they are not missing family members, especially when a head and wife are the only family members listed on the page. Otherwise, children (whether young or grown) can be missed easily.

Even when it is thought that “everyone for a particular family has been found,” check anyway. Better to be thorough than to be stubborn.

Add Substance To Your Ancestors’ Lives

Thursday, January 3rd, 2008

By Sherry Lindsay,
Often, learning about ancestors and their lives can become a redundant list of names, places and dates. Perhaps there are a few additional pieces of information like profession, honors received, land purchased and sold, and other tidbits from various records that hold genealogical data.

For many people, these simple outlines of people’s lives are enough to keep the researcher completely captivated by his/her ancestors. Other people, though, need more substance to find their ancestors’ lives interesting or to feel emotionally connected to their ancestors. One of the best ways to add substance to your ancestors’ lives is to research the historic events that happened during their lives. Doing this transforms genealogy into family history.

There are numerous ways to learn about historical context, the primary way being to read literature written about the time periods during which your ancestors lived. You can also read about events that happened during their lifetimes, and more general histories about people who lived during that same time period.

In researching a family living in Chicago during the 1850s, I’ve read books about the development of Chicago, urban life during the time period, books about women during the time period, and online resources about the history of Catholicism and law in Chicago. All of these resources somehow related to the ancestors I was researching.

This sort of research has strengthened my understanding of my ancestors. While the vast majority of them left no sort of journal accounting for their day to day comings and goings and their general lifestyles, I can at least guess and begin to understand what their lifestyles were like. I’ve learned what was typical for people of their income status, religion, location and time.

Contextual research certainly doesn’t solve my complicated research queries, but sometimes it does lead me to resources I otherwise might not have checked.

For example, when I learned the St. Patrick’s Catholic Church was built in Chicago during the time of my ancestor and became the primary church for the Irish Catholics in the city, it helped me find the christening records for the rest of the children in a large family. I might have found the information otherwise by tediously searching the records for every other Catholic Church in the Chicago region, but instead I knew exactly where to go to obtain the records I needed.

I’ve also used contextual research to understand naming patterns, reasons for immigration and family size.

Contextual research is like the meat on what is otherwise merely a skeletal structure. It can provide clues for future places to research, an understanding of cultural patterns, and can create interest for family members that otherwise may find family history rather dull.