Archive for the ‘Newsletter’ Category

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.


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.


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.


That might have been enough, but I made bigger plans. I published the book electronically at for Kindle and the various free Kindle apps, and at 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.

The Cemetery Comes to Life

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

American Fork Cemetery with mountains

American Fork Cemetery. Photo by David Rodeback.

My small city, American Fork, Utah, has almost enough parks, and some of them have good jogging paths. But walkers’ and joggers’ favorite venue is, of all places, the local cemetery. I live nearby, and I see them there almost anytime between dawn and dusk, except during rare bouts of nasty weather. The cemetery itself is picturesque, and its lake and mountain views are captivating, especially — for me — in the evening.

It doesn’t seem odd or inappropriate to me that a cemetery should be a popular recreation spot, at least in the sense I’ve described. But I confess I first thought it strange that a city would have an annual “History and Heritage Pageant” among the gravestones. I’ve long since changed my mind; now it seems quite appropriate.

Mark Steele as sea captain

Mark Steele plays a sea captain in the 2011 pageant. Bret Dalton photo, used by permission.

For three evenings every summer, near the end of July, our local cemetery comes alive. Hundreds of people gather to enjoy food, including a very popular 25-cent ice cream cone; various crafts; carriage rides (see the horse-drawn carriage just entering the photo above); and live music. Top billing goes to my favorite part of the event, half a dozen amateur theatrical presentations about the lives of people buried in the cemetery. These vary in length from 10 to 25 minutes, and each of them runs several times during the evening. There’s more to see and do than a single evening permits, but the modestly-priced tickets are good for all three evenings.

This year, my own participation began months before. Local resident Cindy Holindrake, who has run the pageant for several years, came to me and asked if I’d like to write another script — my fourth in the last six years, but who’s counting? She gave me a stack of personal histories and other materials she had found about three people who are interred in the cemetery. This might have been enough material for two or three scripts, but she was worried that one of the tales might be too dark, including, as it does, the story of an English sailor nearly being eaten by his shipwrecked comrades.

Writing for the stage is always challenging, I suppose. But when the stage is the cemetery lawn, the actors (almost always) amateurs, the costumes simple, and the props minimal, it’s more so. Add to that the need for historical accuracy and the common challenge of portraying numerous significant events of a lifetime in the space of 10-25 minutes, and the playwright’s role seems almost daring, or possibly foolhardy. Writing for this pageant, I don’t have to face my subjects in person, but I’ll almost always meet several of their descendants, who either live nearby or come from afar to see the production. I want them to feel that I’ve portrayed their ancestor accurately and sympathetically, and — perhaps more importantly — that I haven’t abused a good life by using it to bore audiences.

The first time I participated in one of these dramas, I played a small role in the most lavish such production I’ve seen. A friend and neighbor who has studied the Mormon pioneers extensively wrote the script and assembled a cast of about 20, including some children. He even recruited a team of horses, a driver, and a covered wagon. The vignette was about two famous handcart companies who started late and met disaster in Wyoming, when winter came early. I was cast as Levi Savage, one of the pioneers and a personal hero of mine.

My own first script was about another pioneer, Thomas Featherstone. The production had a cast of about 10 — including a few to play the hero at different ages — and some live music. The narrative continuity came from an older Thomas reading from his journal to connect scenes and place them in context.

David Rodeback and Brent Miller

Yours truly (left) and Brent Miller, 2011. Bret Dalton photo, used by permission.

The next year, a friend and I took an idea from a past pageant and wrote a new script, which became (we were told) the first outright comedy ever presented in the pageant. It’s about a Mormon polygamist fleeing a US Deputy Marshal. The polygamist dons a dress and bonnet and hides himself in a church meeting (the audience), just as the marshal arrives. We told people that our production was “twelve minutes of silliness sprinkled with a few bits of history,” but the situation was authentic enough, and one of the historical figures is buried in the cemetery. That first year, I wore the badge, and my friend wore the dress. Three years later (last year) they asked us to do it again, and we decided it would be fair to switch roles.

Apparently, in a dress I am not only hideous, but also memorable. I often volunteer as an usher and a ticket-taker at concerts of a local symphony orchestra, two towns to the north of my own. I wear a suit and tie for that gig, not a dress, but people I don’t know still say, as they hand me their tickets, “We know you. We saw you wearing a dress at the cemetery!”

Two years ago, I wrote a script about Hap Holmstead, a prominent local athletic coach who lived when some popular American sports were played locally in a cow pasture — making good footwork even more important, I suppose.

Tammie Foote, John Heeder, David Rodeback

Tammie Foote, John Heeder (center), and the author in "Swapping Stories on the Porch" (2012). Bret Dalton photo, used by permission.

For this year’s new script, I decided to combine those three autobiographies Cindy gave me into a single 25-minute bout of after-dinner storytelling. Two of the three, Jonathan and Mary Steggell, came from England to American Fork, lived rather adventurous lives, and are buried not far from our grassy “stage.” (The first photo in this post is taken from our “stage,” looking toward three American flags which mark the Steggells’ and my own character’s graves.) An old neighbor and a new neighbor played those roles.

I played a Scotsman, John Duncan, with a wooden leg, one blind eye, and a prickly relationship with religious authority. I spent a few weeks listening to Scottish accents, so I could sound almost authentic. After a bit of experimenting in rehearsals, I also figured out how to hit myself over the head with my cane loudly enough to tease the audience, but without giving myself a headache. This violence wasn’t completely gratuitous; I was telling a story about some Indian trouble in Wyoming, which involved my character being hit over the head with a rifle barrel.

We performed five times each evening, for audiences ranging in size from half a dozen to forty. (Two dozen filled our folding chairs; then it was Standing Room Only.) We met descendants of John Duncan and the Steggells. They were complimentary and full of questions. We told them what we knew from the histories.

John Dalton gravestone

John Duncan's gravestone in American Fork. Photo by David Rodeback.

Only now do I realize that I missed an opportunity. I learned, as I was just beginning to write, that an elderly gentleman who lives about two stones’ throw from me is a direct descendant of the Steggells. He sat me down one morning and showed me two volumes of their history and journals, which he had edited years before and published for the family. (This was after another family member had learned to read the old version of shorthand in which the original text was written!) He doesn’t get out much, so we should have taken our production on the road, to his living room. It’s too late now, but I suppose I can at least take him the script.

Things slow down after sunset. The last theatrical performances end, and we load the props into a cast member’s van. It’s not a big job: three rocking chairs, my cane, a small table to hold our pie, some plates and forks, what’s left of the pie, and — until a gust of wind toppled it and broke it — a wooden coat rack. Meanwhile, much of the crowd gathers for live music that is just beginning. I would stop and enjoy it, too, if I hadn’t spent the last two hours on stage. Instead, I take my bow tie, my hat, and my fake Scottish accent and walk off into the sunset. Literally.

Sunset at the American Fork Cemetery

Sunset at the American Fork Cemetery. Photo by David Rodeback.

I have other commitments next year, but I’m already looking forward to reviving “Brother Will and the Deputy Marshal” in 2014. And I don’t care who wears the dress.

Discovering Family Tree Records

Saturday, March 31st, 2012


We’ve just added a powerful new resource to World Vital Records – the MyHeritage Family Trees Collection, an exclusive database with more than 400 million tree profiles and tens of millions of associated photos.

Using this data collection, researchers can find trees which connect with their own or lead to new information about ancestors.  Now you can quickly find information and learn from other researchers and discover family members and yet unknown distant cousins as you search this large, dynamically updated collection.


To search the trees, simply log on to your World Vital Records account and click “Search>Card Catalog” to go to a new page showing the MyHeritage Family Trees Collection.


Combining Social Media with Family History

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

As Facebook enters its eighth year and many other social networking sites become publicly-traded companies (LinkedIn, Groupon, Yelp, Zynga, Twitter), it seems that social media is here to stay.

As genealogists, how can we embrace today’s online social media tools to further our research? I’ve spoken to people who – through social networking – find both long lost cousins and other family members. Some find family they did not know they had.

One society I know of uses the free online meet-up technology available through GooglePlus – they are called Hangouts – to hold weekly meetings without leaving home.

There is so much knowledge and shared experience in the blogosphere. Whether it is a wiki website with user-submitted articles or a professional genealogist sharing his or her experience, blogs offer relevant hints and tricks. If you are not already familiar with blogs, follow a few presenters from a recent conference, company page or visit for a comprehensive list of genealogy blogs. Once you find writers who resonate with you on your favorite social networking site, it’s like checking the daily news. You’ll receive valuable insights and entertaining snippets.

Microblogging, blogging but on a smaller scale, allows people to share quick bits of content. Whether you want to share a link to a great video or just your thoughts at the moment, Twitter is the most common forum for microbloggers. If you aren’t into sharing right away, following others is a fascinating way to learn about current trends. It feels as if you are listening simultaneously to 100 conversations. It is easy to see what topics are most commonly discussed. Are you are a visual person? There are sites to pin images of products, fun ideas or content as well like Pinterest. Whatever your style, share the best of what you find online within your network and learn new ideas from others — that’s what it’s all about. (more…)

DNA: History revealed via technology

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

By Schelly Talalay Dardashti – US Genealogy Advisor

Genetic genealogy is perhaps the most exciting new tool for family history research.  It can prove or disprove family relationships, determine a time frame when two people shared a common ancestor, provide genetic matches and clues to ancestral origins.

While paper records may be inaccurate through accident or purpose – throughout history – blood doesn’t lie. If two men match genetically, they are related, and what needs to then be determined is when their most recent common ancestor (MRCA) lived.

Genetic genealogy technology can:

  • Provide information when there is no paper trail.
  • Confirm or disprove a relationship or story.
  • Cut across history/geography lines.
  • Results may point to better traditional methodology/resources by pinpointing geography or other details

What is important, however, is to understand how this new industry came about, and what it can and cannot do. was founded by CEO/founder Bennett Greenspan in Houston, Texas in April 2000. He had discovered two branches of his mother’s family, one known in the US, the other a possible relation in Argentina. While he suspected the connection – because of the rare name – there was no paper trail of documents for the Argentine family. He convinced Dr. Michael Hammer of the University of Arizona to conduct a pilot project,

Bennett’s group included sets of identical twins; his own father, brother and sons, Bennett’s son, and other individuals, as well as males from those two branches of his mother’s family. As he suspected, the Y-DNA tests of the two branches matched, as did those of the identical twins with each other, and those of his father, brother and the next generation (albeit with small natural mutations). (more…)

Take 10 Steps: Begin Your Gen Journey!

Monday, January 23rd, 2012
Family Portrait

Family Portrait

By Schelly Talalay Dardashti

Are you one of those people who want to begin researching their family, but just don’t know how or where?

Beginning your unique journey – every family is different – down discovery road will be easier if you understand why you want to take that first step.

Some are interested in their medical histories, others want to find “lost” branches around the world or prove family stories. One person may wish to write a book; another to visit an ancestral town and make a documentary. Have you inherited family information and want to understand it, build on it, preserve it and transmit it to future generations?

There are a million reasons for looking into your family!

Here are 10 steps to help you get started. (more…)

Start today: Work on your to-do list

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Start today:  Work on your to-do list

A genealogy friend recently told me that – for several weeks – he has been busily scanning a pile of family photos. Collectively, his family has more than 10,000 images to be scanned and saved.

I just read an article indicating that it is not uncommon around the world for homes to burn down, and the surviving family reminisces about the lost quilts, mementos and, most importantly, family photos.

In another story yesterday, Kodak continues to revamp from the inside out as rolls of film and 35mm cameras have all but disappeared, forcing the company to rethink and rebuild to meet the current times.

As my wife and I worked this weekend to clean the house for my mother-in-law’s visit, I ran across a few rolls of old 35mm film. I was transported back to when I was a kid, waiting for my birthday gift – a camera.  Then I needed film – and had to pay for developing it – to record my friends, campouts, school events and more. (more…)

Family History Bulletin: Nov 2011 Issue

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

WorldVitalRecords Nov 2011 Issue

Family History Bulletin
Coopers Gravestone Cooper’s Grave, A Reminder of the Special Nature of Burial Sites.

by Mark Olsen

In no time I was winding up the side of a mountain on an old paved road, just high enough to be above most of the homes. East Lawn Memorial Hills Cemetery was quite the surprise. I thought back to the recent burial of my grandfather and wished this picturesque location could have been chosen for his final resting place. I meandered through the cemetery roads a bit and then pulled over and began to walk the rows of in-the-ground, flat tombstones.

That is when I made a discovery at a one of the most beautiful burial grounds I had ever seen…

Read More

We’ve Added More Records

As we work to bring you the best family history records, we are constantly finding and releasing new content for you to use in your search.

Nov 2011 New Records:

From Social Security Indexes to censuses, we have added over 150 million records in the last 6 months to assist you with your family history research.

Start Searching

Family History Search Together

Cooper’s grave a reminder of the special nature of burial sites

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

I work with genealogy data every day at, but lately, as a genealogist, I’ve wanted to get out of the office and help record the important facts left behind on tombstones. One of the many content partners whose data we index at WorldVitalRecords is Find A Grave, so that’s where I started.

I signed up as a contributor at Find A Grave and found some photo requests for a local cemetery I had never visited before. It was nice to discover that this cemetery was only a mile or so away from my office in Provo.

During lunch I jumped in my car to locate the cemetery and take a look around. I planned on going back again later with the printed photo requests to gather the requested information.

In no time I was winding up the side of a mountain on an old paved road, just high enough to be above most of the homes. East Lawn Memorial Hills Cemetery was quite the surprise. I thought back to the recent burial of my grandfather in Lindon and wished this picturesque location could have been chosen for his final resting place. I meandered through the cemetery roads a bit and then pulled over and began to walk the rows of in-the-ground, flat tombstones.

The cemetery is nestled in the foothills above Provo, near the mouth of Provo Canyon. Mountains soar behind it. Paths wind among the trees, hills, flower gardens and graves. Utah Lake dominates the

Halloween Memorial

Halloween Memorial

vista to the west, with more mountains beyond it. Truly this is the most beautiful of all burial grounds I’d ever imagined.

There are more gravesites here than first appear; the flat headstones hide in the grass until you come close to them. I was alone with the residents, at peace, a few hundred feet above the hustle and bustle of the suburbs.
I ventured toward a couple of young trees, which appeared to have a sign strung between them.

I could see that great care had been taken in stringing the sign, and the tree trunks had become columns of pictures, tied with orange ribbons and bows. There were pumpkins at the bases of the trees.

The pictures were of all of the same family, dressed for several Halloweens. The little boy in the pictures was Cooper; his name was spelled out on the sign. I had not yet seen his grave.

Cooper's Headstone

Cooper's Headstone

A few steps from the trees, I found it. Little Cooper’s windswept hair, mischievous eyes and big, happy smile were now embossed forever in bronze, with a lake in the background. Cooper’s parents have since told me that the lake is Navajo Lake, near Cedar City, where Cooper loved to wade and skip rocks. It was the most beautiful tombstone I had ever seen.

Suddenly, the graves all around me felt alive. A gravestone is not just a rock in the ground with some lettering on it. It marks the final resting place of someone’s son or daughter, brother or sister, parent or neighbor or friend. To someone like me, who is involved in the never-ending work of family history, perhaps this should be obvious. But on that day in that place, I felt it as I hadn’t felt it before. A grave is a place to keep memories alive.

I went back a couple of days later with Cooper’s name on my list of photo requests, because the Internet is a place to keep memories alive, too. I met a brother and sister who are also Find A Grave contributors. They were busy walking the rows, looking for graves of which photos had been requested. They hadn’t seen Cooper’s grave yet. I told them they were in for a special moment. I imagine them lingering, as I had, amid the Halloween decorations, at the beautiful resting place of a beloved little boy.

Take the time to work on your genealogy. Learn more of the stories of your own ancestors, and sooner or later you’ll find some special places like Cooper’s.

Discover Your Family Stories

Note: Cooper’s family has a blog where you can learn more about Cooper, the annual run established in his memory and the family’s memories of their son and brother.

View From the cemetery

View from the cemetery

Cooper's grave and Halloween Memorial

Cooper's grave and Halloween Memorial