Archive for the ‘Feature Article’ Category

Finding My People in the US Census

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Just past a very small Idaho city called Arco (of some international scientific fame), but not all the way to a hamlet called Moore, is a place the locals call Lost River. It’s probably called that because the Big Lost River flows through. It’s actually not a big river, and sometimes it doesn’t even flow to, let alone through, the little valley. When it does, it gets lost out in the desert somewhere downstream, between Arco and Idaho Falls. It just flows into the ground.

My mother’s people in Lost River are more constant than the river. So I thought I’d try looking them up in the US Censuses at WorldVitalRecords.com.

In the 1930 Census

First, I found them in the 1930 Census. In the image below, in household #8, Ross O. Babcock is my mother’s father. Bertha A. Babcock is her mother. Agnes J. and “Baby” Babcock are her older sister and brother, respectively. My mother isn’t there, because she was born in 1931. (more…)

News: 1790-1940 US Censuses at WorldVitalRecords!

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

WorldVitalRecords is pleased to announce the release of US Federal Census indexes and images from 1790 to 1930, about 520 million names in all. Add these censuses to our 1940 US Federal Census index and images, and subscribers can now search the largest and most important set of US genealogical records with ease at WorldVitalRecords.com.

Census records document almost everyone who lived in a country when the census was taken. They often include names, ages, addresses, birthplaces, occupation, literacy, and other information. This information can open the door to many additional discoveries about your ancestors.

For more information about the US Censuses, see “What’s in a US Census?” at the WorldVitalRecords blog.

Search the US Censuses at WorldVitalRecords

What’s in a US Census?

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

If you are looking for ancestors who were born in or emigrated to the United States, US Census records are one of your most valuable tools. They don’t provide precise records of births, marriages, or deaths, but they offer a wealth of clues to these events and valuable information as to where and how ancestors lived.

Every 10 years since 1790, the US government has conducted a nationwide census. Officially, the census’s purpose is to insure each state, based on its population, an equitable allocation of seats in the US House of Representatives (US Constitution, Article I, Section 2). But the census does more than just count heads. The government also gathers other information from each person and household — in fact, a slightly different set of information in each census. This data facilitates various types of research by government, businesses, and other entities. Family historians use it to find ancestors, discover where they lived and when, and to gather clues for further research.

The US Census Bureau publishes many different kinds of information, based on the latest census, but, to protect privacy, the actual census records are not released until 72 years after the census. So the 1940 US Census was released in 2012. (This 72-year rule has not always been in place; see below.)

Here’s a quick survey of the US Censuses which are already available, with notes about what was asked; the reported population; a few morsels of history, politics, and technology; and one big fire.

To see notes about a particular census, skip the proper heading below; they’re in chronological order. To see how the census evolved, start with 1790. If what you really want to do right now is search the censuses for your ancestors, follow this link to the WorldVitalRecords US Census collection.

(more…)

Is DNA Right for You?

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Anyone who has watched television in the past two decades knows the value of DNA evidence. Comparing two samples of DNA is a great way to convict or exonerate a suspect or to identify a victim. If two samples of human deoxyribonucleic acid are identical, they came from the same person, because DNA encodes all of a person’s genetic information, and no two people have exactly the same DNA. It’s better than fingerprints. DNA can also show relationships between two people, because relatives have similar (but not identical) DNA.

The idea of using DNA for genealogy inspires images of digging up old grave sites to procure a sample. But you won’t need a shovel. You yourself are a walking record of your ancestors. Some pieces of your genetic makeup have come from recent ancestors; others have been handed down from generation to generation over hundreds of years.

DNA Double Helix

Your DNA determines the characteristics you inherit from your parents. For genealogy testing, specific markers (snippets of genetic code) on the last chromosome pair have been identified as the most stable markers, that is, they remain most consistent over time. Some of your inherited traits may be obvious; you may have your father’s nose and your grandmother’s toes. But your DNA also contains less obvious traits which come down to you from more distant generations.

This means that your DNA includes a record of long-forgotten ancestors.

There are three main types of DNA tests used in genealogy.

Y-DNA

We all inherit an X chromosome from our mother. Males also receive a Y chromosome from their father.

Testing of the male line includes looking at shared markers on the Y chromosome. Depending on how much detail you want, you may look at 12, 37, or 67 markers.  Because the Y chromosome is only passed through the paternal line, Y-DNA testing can only be administered to a male. The results provide insight into the male ancestors of that individual’s paternal line, including identifying the haplogroup — essentially, your place in the genetic tree of the world.

mtDNA

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is contained in the cytoplasm of the cell, rather than the nucleus. This type of DNA is passed by a mother to both male and female offspring without any mixing, so your mtDNA is the same as your mother’s mtDNA, which is the same as her mother’s mtDNA. mtDNA changes very slowly, so it cannot determine close relationships as well as it can determine general relatedness. If two people have an exact match in their mtDNA, then they share a common maternal ancestor, but it is hard to determine if this is a recent ancestor or one who lived hundreds of years ago. It is important to keep in mind with this test that a male’s mtDNA comes only from his mother and is not passed on to his offspring. Your maternal line haplogroup is identified with an mtDNA test.

The DNA tests that identified the bodies of the Romanovs, the Russian imperial family, utilized mtDNA from a sample provided by Prince Philip, who shares the same maternal line from Queen Victoria.

Autosomal

The newest form of DNA testing for genealogy is called Autosomal testing. Over 700,000 locations on the DNA are tested to identify any shared ancestor within the last five generations. You also will gain insight into your ethnic makeup. If you’ve reached a dead end in your research, to the point that you don’t even know where to look, autosomal DNA testing can give you some direction. It will also help you to connect with living relatives whose DNA is on file for comparison.

At the St George Family History Expo this month, I listened to a wonderful talk given by a representative of The Genetic Genealogy Consultant. She shared a story of connections her own autosomal test results made possible. Getting in touch with a matched relative allowed her family to reconnect with a distant cousin who spent hours and hours with her father in their childhood but had since lost touch.

Picking a test

DNA testing can be both exciting and overwhelming. Whether you are looking for new insights into your existing pedigree, a place to start, or ways to connect with living relatives, there is information in your DNA that will unlock resources and leads for your research.

If you are like me, you don’t readily spend your hard-earned money on the latest, greatest technology. I have yet to switch over to a smart phone, much to my colleagues’ amusement,

Choose a DNA test based on which line you want to explore.

because every year there is something better. In the past much of the benefit of DNA testing was to add to the research and development of the field. In order for results to be meaningful, they must be compared with known markers. Family Tree DNA has the largest database, including DNA information on over 400,000 people. The field of genealogical DNA testing has arrived. It has become a dependable treasure trove of information to expand your traditional research efforts, and it will only get better.

To choose which kit or kits are right for you, look at your pedigree and decide what you would like to find out. For example, I’m stuck in the 1800s on my grandfather’s father’s line. I’m told there is German blood, but the surname is Scottish. The best thing for me to do in this case is to find the oldest living descendant in that line and test their paternal line with a Y-DNA test. If I am interested in my mother’s mother’s Irish roots, I need to administer an mtDNA test to my Mother or a female descendant of that line.  All it takes is a simple and painless cheek swab. (Watch this tutorial.)

Know What to Expect

It is important to know what to expect from your results. The report you receive can be very technical. Don’t despair if your high school biology is a bit rusty. There are many wonderful help articles to help you through the details. For example, this one at the Blair DNA Project gives insight into what a DNA test can do for you. Here is a good list they give of insights you can gain from your results:

1)      Identification that you and another participant share a common ancestor.

2)      Y-DNA and mtDNA results give you an idea of how far back a common ancestor lived and the migration path of that ancestral line through the identification of the maternal or paternal haplogroup.

3)      Evidence of a suspected connection between yourself and another participant.

4)      Prove that the test taker is not related to an individual or family.

5)      Autosomal test results provide an amazing detailed description of your ethnic makeup.

Finally, remember that DNA testing alone is not as meaningful as DNA testing paired with traditional research. To get the most out of your DNA test results, use the information as you would any new development in your search. It will open doors and suggest new connections. Ask for help from a professional, if you are not sure how the results can expand your tree.

Relating to the Unrelated

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

Let’s be completely honest up front. I am not a professional genealogist. Most of the time, I’m not even a hobby genealogist. Every once in a while, when I find interest, I will dabble a little here and dabble a little there. But I always seem to get distracted when looking at my family lines. I get lost in the stories of what was happening in the times and places where my ancestors lived.

William Hyde

William Hyde, my ancestor in the Mormon Battalion

I have never been one who enjoys fiction. Real stories of real people, and getting a picture of how they really lived, always entice me much more. I am very lucky to have rich genealogical records passed down to me. Many of them are filled with the stories of my ancestors, not just their names and dates. From these I begin to assemble the larger stories of the places where they lived and visited, and the people they knew. So my question for you is, Are you just gathering names? Or are you attempting to relate to them by understanding who they really were, based on where they lived, how they lived, and who lived around them?

When we find names, we find more than just names. We find time periods and places where people lived. If we rush on to the next name, we never learn who they were and how they became who they were. If we look further, we find the occupations, politics, and religions of the people there, and even the illnesses they suffered. In the end we better understand how we became who we are.

Not long ago, my husband and I were sitting at home, reading books about our separate family lines. My mother was from Canada and Beverly Hills. My father was a Jew from Manhattan. I had always made fun of my husband for being born and raised in American Fork, Utah. (I said it “Fark,” like some of the natives.) I loved to poke at him because of his family’s provincial Utah background. But on that night, as I was reading the Journal of William Hyde, who spent many years working away from his family and even marched across the West with the Mormon Battalion, I ran across some names that appeared to be very . . . familiar. I started to blush, and I tried to hide what I was reading.

He saw me shifting nervously. “Clare, what’s that you are reading?” he asked.

“Nothing you would be interested in,” I responded. “Just family history stuff.”

“Why do you look so uncomfortable? Let me read what you are reading! It must be heavy stuff.”

I had forgotten for a moment that he is a huge history buff. I tried to keep the book from him, but he quickly pulled it out of my hand, and like a schoolboy, held it just out of my reach.

He opened the book. “Huh,” he said, and turned the page. “Huh.” Another page. “Oh reeeeallllly?”

He had found it: The part of my family history I will never live down, after teasing him for years.

Our families were nearly next-door neighbors in — where else? — American Faark.

Russ and Clare

My husband, Russ, and I

We looked further and were stunned. Our ancestors had come across the plains in the same groups of pioneers. They fought in the same battalions. They lived in the same cities. They owned land next to each other in multiple states. They were active in politics and served in the judiciary in the same places.

They were not only friends, but business partners. They were neighbors. They attended the same church services. They had children who died of the same diseases along the same pioneer trail.

We always said that the angels must have helped get us together, because we’re “a match made in heaven.” We never realized our paths started to cross almost two centuries ago.

I learned that night to love to relate to the unrelated. Any name we find, related or otherwise, could mean more to us than we ever imagined.

Nine Ways to Make Family History a Habit

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Are you into family history for the fun of it? Okay, I agree, we need a stronger word than fun. May I try that again?

Are you into family history for the joy of it?

That’s reason enough, but there are other possibilities. You may feel a duty to your ancestors, to help them live on in their descendants’ memories. You may feel a sense of obligation to your posterity, to help them understand who they are and whence they came. For some, it’s a religious duty. Or perhaps you’re driven by a more personal desire, to figure out who you are and whence you came. All of these are perfectly good motives.

I don’t claim that you even need a motive, or that you should report it to me or anyone else. But, for the sake of discussion, let’s assume that you have some discernible reason for engaging in family history.

Let’s also assume that your own involvement is important to you, not just your work product. If only the result matters — if family history to you is like cleaning the oven, replacing the broken sewer line, or having your gall bladder removed — you might hire a professional genealogist and let him or her worry about it. That’s fine; professional genealogists have to eat, too. But this post is for people who want to be involved, not just have the work done. (more…)

Family Video Night, Holiday Version

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

When I was single and dating — about one generation ago — they told me that taking someone to a movie wasn’t a very good first date, because we’d just sit there quietly and passively absorb the movie, and when we were done we wouldn’t know each other any better than we did when we started. It made sense, so I didn’t go on a lot of movie dates.

family video nightSometimes they say the same thing about movies at home — family video night, if you will. But there I disagree. Movies work differently for families at home. Sometimes we do sit quietly at home as we watch them, but that’s not the end of it. The best movies, by which I mean the ones we like best, live on in our conversation. Then we go back and watch them again and again, and they live even longer.

Great Lines

In my family it’s usually not profound themes or moving monologues that enter the family’s language. It’s great lines, and most of them are funny. In just the last few days, these much-loved lines have been quoted aptly in ordinary conversation among members of my family:

  • “Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.” (Cary Elwes’ Man in Black in The Princess Bride)
  • “I tell you, it’s a whole different sex!” (Jack Lemmon’s Jerry in Some Like It Hot)
  • “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?” (Benjamin Whitrow’s Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice)

Some of our movie references require a second participant, which makes them sort of an inside joke. Two of the most common are from the 1993 comedy Dave. Kevin Kline’s title character and Ving Rhames’ Duane have this exchange:

“I can’t say.”
“You mean, you don’t know, or ‘you can’t say’?”
“I can’t say.”

And when relatives come over, especially during the holidays, they’ll wave and call out, as they drive away with their windows down:

“Thanks for doing this, Ellen!”

There are two canonical responses, depending on how naughty we’re feeling, because Dave says this two times in the movie, and his wife (played by Sigourney Weaver) responds differently. One is:

“You never change, do you, Bill?”

The other is:

“Go to h-ll, Bill!”

(For the record, Sigourney Weaver didn’t use the hyphen.)

For full effect, picture my relatively straight-laced family in front of my house on our quiet, Christmas-lit street, as midnight approaches on Christmas Eve. Huge snowflakes fall gently. My brother-in-law and his relatively straight-laced family pull away in their car, headed home. Their windows are open, the horn honks, and they yell out the windows, “Thanks for doing this, Ellen!” I and mine call loudly after them, as if with one voice, “Go to h-ll, Bill!” It’s a beloved ritual.

Scenario: Snowed In

My colleagues here at MyHeritage’s Utah office, the home of WorldVitalRecords, are fun and interesting, so I decided to consult them. I e-mailed them this question, and several replied. (The others, I assume, were too busy working.)

“It’s two days before Christmas. You’re snowed in with the family. The cable, satellite TV, and Internet are out, and you forgot to order anything new from Netflix, but the electricity’s still on. By mutual agreement, it’s video night. The popcorn’s popping, someone has a stash of relatively fresh Junior Mints, and there’s time for two movies. You’re all feeling nostalgic, and the consensus is to watch two family favorites: one that’s related to the season and one that’s not. What movies might you watch? Tell me your short lists. They have to be in your, or the family’s, video collection.”

I told them my short lists, to get them started. (Later I consulted my family and was told I got them mostly right.)

Holiday:

  • While You Were Sleeping (1995)
  • The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
  • Miracle on 34th Street (1947 or 1994, but some of the family strongly prefer the older one)
  • It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Non-holiday:

  • Some Like It Hot (1959)
  • Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
  • My Fair Lady (1964) or The Music Man (1962)
  • Dave (1993)

For some reason, most of family’s favorites tend to involve a scam or impersonation of some sort. That probably means something.

But to My Colleagues . . .

Richard listed non-holiday flicks Ever After (1998), Harry Potter (2001), and The Count of Monte Cristo (2002), and, for the holidays, ‘Twas the Night before Christmas (1974) and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966).

Will listed, for the holidays, “in order of awesomeness,” It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf (2003), Scrooged (1988), and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966). His non-holiday choices are The Sting (1973), Groundhog Day (1993), and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969).

popcorn and filmClare wrote, “Love my Christmas horror flicks!” She named Santa’s Slay (2005) and Jack Frost (1996), “and then of course the cult classic, Gremlins (1984).”

Randy’s mixed short list includes The Grinch (2000), Dumb and Dumber (1994), and White Chicks (2004).

Roger’s family likes holiday films It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf, and The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), and non-holiday pictures Enchanted (2007), Mary Poppins (1994), and Jungle Book (1967).

Ashley listed these for Christmas: It’s a Wonderful Life, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), Home Alone (1990), The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993),  The Santa Clause (1994), and Elf. Her non-Christmas choices are Tangled (2010), “any of the 007’s,” the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Harry Potter series, the Star Wars series, The Expendables (2010), Alien (1979), Predator (1987), and AVP (2004). (Her family may have to be snowed in for several days, not just an evening.)

Russ’s clan prefers A Knight’s Tale (2001), Tourist (2010), Knight and Day (2010), and, for the holidays, White Christmas (1954),  Home Alone, and Jingle All The Way (1996).

Mark offered Elf, Miracle on 34th Street (1994), Polar Express (2004), and The Grinch (2000) for the holidays, and also “Harry Potter — all of them” and “Lord of the Rings — all of them.”

Julie listed A Christmas Story (1983) and Mixed Nuts (1994) for the holidays, and Tommy Boy (1995) and Crocodile Dundee (1986) of general interest. She added a story about Crocodile Dundee:

My grandpa had a cabin when I was young. We would go up there at least once a month in the spring andsummer. There was a TV and VCR, but we could never remember to bring movies with us. For years the only tapes left up there were Crocodile Dundee and some 1980s ski movies. We ended up watching Crocodile Dundee every time we were there.

A Thought, a Suggestion, and Two Questions (not necessarily in that order)

Julie’s brief tale of Crocodile Dundee appeals to the family historian in me. Here’s my suggestion:  When the parents or grandparents or uncles or aunts are over for dinner during the holidays, ask them what have been their favorite movies — and when and why they loved them, and with whom they watched them, and how much it cost to get in.

My questions for you are these. First, based on the movies listed above, whose home would you prefer for an impromptu, snowed-in video night? Second, what would you and your family watch if you were snowed in at home?

Finally, the thought may be out of bounds for this blog post, perhaps, but Ashley added this at the bottom of her list, and it belongs at the bottom of mine, too: ”And, of course, we would cozy up and read books.”

Happy holidays, everyone!

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.