Archive for the ‘Tips’ Category

Unofficial Marriage Records, Gretna Green, and Complications

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

There are several kinds of official records of marriages (see this earlier post), but many unofficial sources can also be useful to family historians trying to learn the name of an ancestor’s spouse or the date of a marriage. Whether or not an unofficial source’s information about a marriage is precise or complete, it can provide useful clues.

Some of these unofficial records may provide information which is not recorded in official sources. For example, a 1960 Idaho State Journal article about my aunt’s wedding reports that her sister – my mother – came from Salt Lake City, Utah, for the wedding. The article also describes the bride’s wedding dress, which may be of little genealogical consequence, but nonetheless interests some of her offspring more than half a century later.

Anniversary notice in newspapers

Anniversary notice in newspapers

Here are some sources to consider:

  • Personal records of officiators or other participants or family members
  • Family Bibles
  • Newspaper announcements of engagements, weddings, and anniversaries
  • Children’s birth records or announcements
  • Census records
  • Tax records (at least as to marital status)
  • Occupational records (marital status and spouse name)
  • Death records
  • Obituaries
  • Military records
  • Pension records
  • Living relatives, within the limits of memory
  • Old wedding announcements kept in that box in the attic.

Don’t neglect the World Wide Web; some of this information is now searchable online, and more recent marriages may be noted in online newsletters or web sites of towns and churches.

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Finding and Using Official Marriage Records

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Marriage records are one of the oldest types of records kept by churches and governments. Their form and content vary widely from place to place and over time. They tend to be issued locally, though it is now common for them to be archived at the state or national level. In the United States weddings are performed and documented according to state law; elsewhere these matters are often regulated at the national level.

Marriage records usually contain the full names of the bride and groom, though some early official records of marriages in some places named only the husband. They may include several dates, of which the wedding date — the date the ceremony was performed — is preferred for genealogical purposes. Lacking that date, you may have to settle for the license date, bond date, recording date, or another relevant date. (Tip: In many marriage record formats, it’s easy to mistake one of these dates for another, and the actual wedding date is not the most obvious date. Use caution!)

Wedding Photos

Wedding Photos

Official marriage records may also contain:

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The Sides We Don’t See (or Commit a Small Act of Family History this Season)

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

The holiday season provides excellent opportunities to commit small acts of family history. With just a little effort, we can learn new things about people in our family trees.

People we know, even family members with whom we’ve lived, have sides we may not see or consider. These are facets of their personalities or experience which enrich our sense of who they are or were, if we can discover them through some act of family history.

Consider, for example, my first grade teacher, Miss Keller. (The name is changed to protect her, in case she’s more innocent than we thought at the time.) Miss Keller was mean. She yelled at us. She punished the whole class for the minor offenses of one or two students, which is as quick a way to pique a child’s sense of injustice as any. She also taught us to count in German.

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What’s in a Name?

Thursday, December 12th, 2013
people in the our tree

The people in the our tree

I have been trying to think of how best to get my children excited about genealogy for a while now. I long assumed they were much too young, and I would worry about it when they were older. Teenagers, maybe? I have since realized they are more than ready now.

I first realized it two years ago, when my three year old brought home a family tree he had made in preschool. It started with him and included me, my husband, his brother and “the baby.” At the time, I was pregnant but hadn’t announced it outside the family. The family tree project forced an announcement, since the preschool teacher was also my next-door neighbor.

This week I decided to make another family tree with my boys. To make it more interesting, we would mostly focus on my sons’ namesakes. My older son, now seven, is named after his father and grandfather. My five year old is named for two of his great-grandfathers.

My goal is to help my boys understand why their names are special. I want them to know something about the men they are named after and take a little pride in their names. My older son doesn’t like to be called by his given name. He even gets angry, when we remind him that his real name is Nathan, not Trey. This is a bit of a sore spot for him and his grandfather. Maybe making our tree will help that situation too.
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Four Ways to Keep Distant Family Members from Being Strangers

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

Growing up, I lived within an hour’s drive of all my cousins. So I grew up really knowing them, and my aunts and uncles. They were a regular part of my life. I saw them at nearly every holiday and even ran into them at concerts and sporting events. I loved it! We all did. I think I took this for granted — that this is how it is for everyone, and how it would be for my own little family.

For my children, getting to know their extended family will be different. I am one of six kids. The last 10 years have brought a lot of change for my family: 5 marriages, 13 babies born, and a lot of moving around! We are literally scattered from sea to shining sea, from the coasts of Oregon to Virginia, in Texas and a few spots in between. In fact, no two of my parents’ children are closer than 9 hours by car. Even Grandma and Grandpa now live 12 hours from the closest grandchild.

This is not what we had envisioned for our children. How would they get to know their cousins? We will not be attending each other’s school plays or trick-or-treating together. Family reunions are definitely in the plan, but one week every other year doesn’t feel like enough.

Here are a few of the things we have tried, with much success.

Family YearbooksFamily Yearbooks

These started out as a personalized gift for the grandparents about 6 years ago. Everyone submits pictures of their families celebrating a list of holidays (St. Patrick’s Day, the Fourth of July, Christmas, birthdays, etc.), plus any major events in the family (big trips, a new baby, career milestones). The first year we filled and printed one book. The next year we filled three. Now we fill seven, and we print one each family. This series of books has become a treasured piece of family history and a favorite story book for my children.

Family QuestionnaireFamily Questionaire

We recently had a family reunion. All 25 of us crowded into one snug little beach house. My sister sent out family questionnaires in advance by email to all the families. She collected all the answers, one page per person, in a little binder and sent a copy to each family. Each page had a photo, name, and age, and then listed 10 of the most interesting answers from the questionnaire for each person, such as phobias, favorite TV show, favorite book, and recent accomplishments. It has been fun to read and a fun reference book for my kids. It occurs to me now that this is a great way to capture a moment in our families’ history. In 10 or 20 years we can look back and get a very personal look at how we all were in 2011.

It also made for a fun family quiz game at the beach house reunion. “For 10 points, who sleeps with a stuffed raccoon named ‘Rowdy’?” You would have to read the binder to know.

Face Time

This one is a little more pricey, but you may already have the equipment. At Christmas we exchange gifts between families. Grandma and Grandpa give to all the grandchildren. It is always good to give, but it better to give and watch them open it. Last Christmas we worked out a schedule — which in hindsight was way more complicated than necessary. Everyone had an iPod Touch with FaceTime. (There are lots of other options). We set aside certain gifts until the appointed time. Grandma and Grandpa were able to tune it to watch all their grandkids open at least some of their presents. This was actually made easier by the distance. Since we were in different time zones, my kids were only just waking up in the Mountain time zone as their cousins on the east coast were finishing up.

Family CalendarsCalendars

For years we have been making family calendars, which include everyone’s birthdays and anniversaries. This used to be a tedious job for me. Rounding up all the images and all the dates took days. I would then do custom layouts for each month. (After all, I’m a graphic designer.) They turned out great, but took me hours! But that was then. This year I logged on to MyHeritage.com and had a calendar done in just minutes! I wish that product had existed 6 years ago. It would have saved me a lot of headaches.

None of this is quite the same as piling into the car for a short drive to visit aunts, uncles, and cousins. But for us, scattered as far as we are, it keeps distant family members from feeling like strangers.

Stuck Happens! 13 Things to Do When It Happens to You

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Dead endWhether you’re a complete novice or a seasoned veteran at family history, you can’t pursue this historical detective adventure very long before you get stuck. Some name or record will elude you. You’ll run out of ideas for finding it, and you’ll start to wonder if the promised rewards of your chosen hobby are worth the trouble or, on a bad day, even possible. Rest assured: You’re not the first, and there is hope.

A Common Challenge

About 20 years ago I started looking for a marriage record for my great-great-great-grandparents, Benjamin James Morgan and Mary Fischer, who are believed to have married circa 1794 in Chester County, Pennsylvania. I didn’t choose this at random. I was looking for something Uncle Shirl, Aunt Gwen, and the other family genealogists had left undone.

I used computerized resources, which were rather sparse then, and paged through microfilmed Chester County records ordered through my local LDS Family History Library. I struck out.

I’m fortunate that I had to go back five generations to find a hole other researchers had left unfilled. But I was living in graduate student poverty at the time, so I could hardly hire a professional genealogist or mount a week-long expedition to the Philadelphia area in search of the record. I needed affordable alternatives. Come to think of it, two decades later, I still do.

It helps see apparent dead ends as something else entirely: forks in the road. When stuck happens, you have at least three options:

  • Pursue the elusive record or relative with laser-like focus. This may lead to success, or it may lead to therapy.
  • Slide this one to the back burner and turn your attention to some other aspect of your family history.
  • Abandon family history in favor of another pastime, such as knitting, lacrosse, or watching reality television.

You’re on your own with the third option, but let’s look at the other two.

Dogged Pursuit

When the person or record you’re stuck on is especially important to you or your tree, you may prefer dogged pursuit. Pardon my changing metaphors, but, if a door you need won’t open, sometimes you can break it down, find another door, or even crawl in a window. Here are some ideas. (more…)

Four Ways to Publish Those Family Treasures

Friday, September 7th, 2012

In 1990 my mother, my brother, and I compiled, edited, and published several of my maternal grandmother’s essays. Most were autobiographical — “My Childhood,” “My Marriage and Family,” and the like — but two were about others. One was “Our Other Grandma,” a tribute to her husband’s mother, whom she refused to call her mother-in-law, because she didn’t like all the critical jokes about mothers-in-law. The other essay she entitled, “Sheepherders I Have Known.”

The resulting short volume (about three dozen letter-size pages) was not a sterling example of the publisher’s art. I printed 15 or 20 copies on my dot matrix printer, then had them bound at a local copy center. There were no illustrations or photographs, not even a sample image or two of the handwritten originals. But it was an instant and enduring hit among its small audience.

This summer I decided to reissue the collection. My mother passed away several years ago, and my brother was busy getting married, so I did it myself. It occupied two or three evenings plus a full, long, 20-hour day off work, but it was ready in time for our annual reunion in early August.

ONE

I couldn’t find the old word processor file, so I used my scanner and the OCR software which came with it. The output text didn’t need much cleanup. I added some old photos, a name index, and a place index. I improved the front cover and the formatting generally. Then I printed about a dozen copies on my laser printer and hauled them to the nearest “big box” office supply store and copy center.

Bertha Babcock History 2nd EdI wanted a Velo binding, as we’d used before. It looks better and is far more durable than . . . anything they actually do at that copy center, as it turned out. They sent me to the local Kinko’s (officially, FedEx Office store), telling me it was the only place in town that could do that kind of binding for me. So I went; it was only about 200 yards away.

Aha! They could do it. But alas! They’d have to send it offsite, because they don’t actually do it here in American Fork. Where? I asked. To Orem, they said. So I thanked them and took it to Orem myself, since it’s on my way to work. By the end of the day, the job was done, and I was pleased with the results: a good-looking binding and a durable, frosted plastic cover, front and back. Between the binding costs and my printing costs, each book cost me about $9.00.

My plan was to give a copy to each of my mother’s six surviving siblings, and also to a couple of relatives who helped a lot with the reunion. (My sister and I were in charge this year.) I couldn’t afford to give it to the next two generations, even if my mother’s generation insisting on paying me for what I intended to be a gift.

Making money was never our object with this publication; we have just wanted to put it into the hands of lots of family members, in the hope that they will read it.

TWO

As I was planning the second edition, I realized that I now have at my disposal three relatively new ways to distribute a document inexpensively. I decided to use them all.

A PDF file of the entire document is about half a megabyte, so it is easily e-mailed. Almost anyone with a personal computer or smart phone can read a PDF file, and the original appearance is faithfully preserved. So I announced to the family that I’ll send the PDF file free of charge, upon request.

THREE AND FOUR

That might have been enough, but I made bigger plans. I published the book electronically at Amazon.com for Kindle and the various free Kindle apps, and at BarnesAndNoble.com for Nook and the free Nook apps. I wasn’t happy with the automatic conversions, especially from HTML, but the conversions from Microsoft Word produced a tolerably good reading experience. One of these first months I’ll have to figure out their raw format, so I can exert more control over the appearance and positioning of images (photos), among other things. In the meantime, it will do.

I set a minimal price for the book at both sites: $0.99. That’s a lot cheaper than printing hard copies, and within the budget of any family member who can afford a Kindle, Nook, or smart phone, I think.

The old, the new, the Kindle app on my iPod

It’s an experiment. I don’t expect the e-books to catch on like wildfire (a painful simile this summer in the American West), but I’m curious to see how they do in the long term. So far, there have been four purchases in all, and one was mine. Twenty sales in the next year or two would delight but not surprise me.

If there’s enough interest among the family, I’ll be happy to publish some other good documents in future years. I haven’t heard of anyone else publishing for small family audiences on Kindle and Nook, and I don’t see very many genealogical works that are available as e-books. But if it catches on among my family, it will be an economical means of getting ancestors’ histories into their descendants’ hands and, one may hope, into their minds and hearts.

In case you’re curious about such things, I pledged to pass on the minimal royalties to the annual reunion fund.

FIVE (An Unadvertised Bonus)

My more knowledgeable colleague at MyHeritage, Mark Olsen, learned of my efforts and pointed out another local opportunity. It may exist in some form local to you, too.

At nearby Brigham Young University, the campus bookstore has a custom publishing service which can turn out relatively affordable soft-bound books very quickly, and pricier hardbacks less quickly. They estimated the cost of producing additional soft-bound copies of my grandmother’s essays about about $7.50 per volume. That’s roughly the same amount I paid elsewhere, but in this case for something that looks a lot like a real book.

Sometime soon I’ll give them a try. All they need is a pair of PDF files: one with the cover, and the other with the rest of the book.

Meanwhile, I’d be interested in hearing how readers are publishing family history documents these days.

As I’ve said before, as important as the names, dates, and places are, the history is by far my favorite part of family history.

What Happened on the Way

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

No matter where you find your ancestors, they probably came from somewhere else. Maybe your ancestors were indentured servants who came to the New World, or Jews who fled Nazi Germany. Perhaps they left on a voyage but never turned up at the expected destination, or arrived there with a new or dramatically changed family. Such migrations can make it hard to trace genealogy.

covered wagonKnowing where an ancestor’s journey started and ended may not be enough to resolve these conundrums. Many major migration routes had important stops along the way, where people stayed for a month or a year or more. If you check these waypoints, too, you may find “missing” records of important life events.

Among my own ancestors, I have found many who were born in the British Isles but died in Utah. They came to the United States in the nineteenth century because of their faith: they were Mormons. There are records of these ancestors in Nauvoo, Illinois, but after that point there seem to be gaping holes. Some of them left Illinois but never turned up in Utah. Others arrived in Utah but with drastic changes in their families.

The Mormon pioneer trail had several significant stops. By studying the route, I was able to find records of events along the way, mostly in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Some of the earliest Mormon pioneers settled there (they named it Kanesville) and set up farms, so they could supply pioneers coming later. The settlement became an important rest stop for pioneers, especially during the winter months, when Winter Quarters was set up just across the river.

Because of the crowded and unhealthy living conditions there, diseases spread quickly. Scurvy, malaria, and tuberculosis claimed many of the pioneers, who were already weak from the arduous journey. This may be what took the lives of some of my ancestors.

On my paternal side, my great, great aunt Sophronia never reached Utah. Her records say she died in Council Bluffs on August 26, 1847. Records for two infants born that day indicate that she died in connection with giving birth to twins.

My maternal ancestors suffered losses in Council Bluffs, too. For example, five generations back, a Jonathan Hale died there in 1846. In the next two weeks, his wife and three of his children also died.pioneers in charcoal

I already knew there were Mormon pioneers among my ancestors, so it was easy to trace my lineage back using what I learned about the trail. Similarly, clues like where and when your ancestors lived can direct you to other migration routes. For instance, if your ancestors are connected with the Spanish War, you may learn something by researching El Camino Real de los Tejas, a significant trail leading from the Rio Grande River in Mexico through San Antonio, Nacogdoches, Laredo, and other cities on the way to Natchitoches, Louisiana.

If you’ve heard stories about your ancestors heading out west for the gold rush, you may find answers along the California Trail, which ran through many cities on its way across the United States, including Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Kansas City, Independence, Star Valley, Carson City, and Salt Lake City.

If you find Irish ancestors living outside of Ireland, they could point you to the Irish Diaspora, which moved significant Irish populations to Great Britain, Argentina, Canada, Bermuda, Jamaica, Mexico, the United States, and other countries.

There are many other migration routes; a simple internet search can find a trail that might be relevant to you. Maybe you’ll be able to discover something groundbreaking, or maybe you’ll learn more details to a story you already knew, like I did. Either way, you’ll have something new to share when you pass along the stories of your ancestors.

How to Browse by Country and State at WorldVitalRecords.com

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

For those of you who know where your ancestors were born, where they died, or even where they traveled, try using the browse by country and state features at WorldVitalRecords.com. Currently at WorldVitalRecords.com, you can search data from 39 countries to find information about your ancestors.

To access the Browse By Country feature:

1. Go to WorldVitalRecords.com

2. Click on Places

3. Click on the name of the country with data you wish to browse.

Click on the database you wish to view, or type in the information you know (such as given name, places where the individual lived, year, family name, keyword, or matching type: exact, soundex or double metaphone) about the name of the individual you are seeking and click “Search.”

To access the Browse by U.S. State feature:

1. Go to WorldVitalRecords.com

2. Click on Places

3. Click on the name of the state with data you wish to browse.

4. Click on the database you wish to view, or type in the information you know (such as given name, places where the individual lived, year, family name, keyword, or matching type: exact, soundex or double metaphone) about the name of the individual you are seeking and click “Search

Protecting Your Valuables in Times of Natural Disaster

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

By Whitney McGowan, FamilyLink.com, Inc.

I have been keeping a daily journal now for 20 years. I have a large box in my house filled with more than 25 journals. These journals are very valuable to me and I am always a little worried that some natural disaster is going to strike here in Orem, Utah, and I am going to lose all of my work.

This may sound a little crazy, but last year, more than 220,000 people were killed in natural disasters. Billions of dollars were spent throughout the world on mitigating the effects of natural disasters. Although some items can be replaced, rebuilt or renewed, many valuables such as photos, books, family heirlooms, journals, birth certificates, passports, religious documents, etc. cannot be easily replaced, and some are completely irreplaceable.

What can you do to protect your valuables? Here are a few ideas

Put your content online. If you have photos, scan them and put them online. If you have books that are meaningful to you, scan them as well and put them online.

Make duplicates. Just in case one of your copies is destroyed by a natural disaster, it is a relief to know that you have an extra copy (even though it may not be the original copy). Duplication also provides protection for computer crashes, accidents, intentional damage, etc. The media life of paper is 100+ years. The media life of microfilm is approximately 500 years. Computer diskettes will last 2-5 years. A CD-ROM generally lasts between 5-50 years.

Create a filing system on your computer containing your valuables. Create a system that allows for quick and easy access. Make sure to clearly label and date your content.

Keep your valuables away from dust, light, and smoke. Be sure to store them in a place with a temperature between 45-65 degrees. Store your master copies and spare copies in different locations.

Place your valuables in fire-resistant, waterproof containers.

The National Archives has prepared a pdf titled, A Primer on Disaster Preparedness, Management and Response: Paper-Based Materials. This guide was created to help individuals take a pro-active approach to disaster preparation with respect to cultural property. Additional ideas on how to protect your valuables are provided.