Friday, January 15, 2016

Facebook genealogy sucess story and sometimes you may be the one only one that can help get an A

This past December I got a message on Facebook from a second cousin of mine that I am Facebook "Friends" but whom I haven't seen since we were at the same funeral 3 or 4 years years ago.  The message was a follows (Names abbreviated for privacy) :

Hi there cuz!!! Merry Christmas to you and your beautiful family!! "J" just drove up from Charlotte and her youngest daughter "A" is doing a school project & needs to know who our first family members were that came to America, where, when, what jobs etc.... I said you would be the only one that would know that??? Do you?? Mom says "hi" too!
 After reading it I realized that as the family genealogist I am one of the few that does know this.  So from my couch in my living room on my smart phone I send the following reply:

I guess i am the one who knows that... I'll give you the summary... Our great great grandfather "MB" came over from Ireland in the 1850 after the great potato famine of the 1830 but not much later ... He came to Pennsylvania we are not sure on the exact port he entered but we suspect New York or Philadelphia... His occupation was soldier... He was in a regiment from Pennsylvania and fought a 4 year stint for the Union in the Civil War... He was at the battle of Gettysburg and his name is on the monument for Pennsylvania at Gettysburg... We know he settled in Hazelton Pa in the 1870 census with his wife and 7 kids .. We don't know if his wife came with him from Ireland or met her in Pennsylvania... Before 1880 he moved to the eastern shore of Maryland and bought a farm ... Although he farmed the land we have also heard he also made money by removing stumps using dynamite a skill he may have picked up in the army... He and his wife and 4 of his sons are all buried at St Joseph cemetery in Cordova... Hope that helps if you need any more information or names or dates I am happy to help out... Hope you are good too.
 This apparently it what was needed and from the response may have sparked a future genealogists.  I day later I received the following Facebook message.

Thanks so much and happy New Year John!! "A" was so excited to have all of this info this morning!! "J" wants to plan a trip to Gettysburg now!! This is great! Thank you!!

 There are a couple of  lesson to get from this.  First being Facebook friends with seconds cousins that you rarely see is a good thing as it makes you easily accessible.  Being known as the family genealogist can help you share the information you have found over the years.  You know the family origin story especially for your number one ancestor better than anyone and others like these stories and need them from time to time.  So all in all a successful connection,  had she needed more I could have loaded her with dates and locations and supporting documents, but for the simple school project she has what she needs and hopefully will get an A+.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Reunion Name Tags

Going to a family reunion is fun and exiting, but if it is a large event you may not know everyone there.  So what is the best way for everyone to feel like a family.  Recently, I was at a family reunion that had four large family groups.  The way they handled this was two fold.  First, they color coded the name tags to separate the families so from across the room you knew that a person with a red name take was part of Uncle Art's family as opposed to the green, yellow and blue tags for the the other families.  The second part was that they added a three generation pedigree chart so you could see who belonged to who.  Each person filled our their name tag and attached it to their shirt. 

So even family members that married in could add their people to the name tag.  It gave the whole reunion a genealogy feel.  So if you walked up to someone you didn't know you might know their father or grandfather then you can place them.  So the baby you haven't seen in 20 years is now college age and you know his father so you can ask more about him based on the name tag.

This system beats having the generic "hello my name is:" tags or going up to everyone you meet and asking "how are you related" or "who are you parents".   Having a color system give you an over view and the pedigree gives you specifics.  Name tags are fun and can also be educational.

Sample of the reunion name tag. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Finally finished my side project...

After careful thought and consideration for creating a course for new genealogist.  I have have finally published a beginners course on  Thought the video presentations and quizzes we go from starting out your genealogy search.  The course is 21 lectures covering 2 hours of content topic covered include:

  • Starting with you and moving back
  • Going from notebook to computer
  • Different types of charts
  • Holiday Stories
  • Family member interviews
  • Writing letters (both snail mail and e-mail)
  • Cemetery hopping
  • Battlefields
  • The archives
  •  Internet research
  •  Make sure you have the right person
  •  Backing up with documents
  • Genealogy apps and websites
  • Hidden Gems
  • Collaborating and linking
  • Getting the story
  • What’s important to you
  • Getting others interested

Using this course or purchasing it for someone you know could provide valuable insight for getting more from your genealogy search.  For the month of May blog readers can purchase this course for only $9  (over 70% off the listed price) by clicking the following link:

 Now that I have completed creation of this course, I hope to have more time to update this blog more frequently with unique perspectives and ideas about going Beyond the Date. 

Look for topics in the coming months about documenting hobbies, preserving non-newspaper obituaries and giving cemetery tours to interested relatives.  

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Email Family Group sheet

At a family party recently, an older relative asked me to send him a updated family group sheet of my family as he did not have the birth dates of my kids.  I told him I would get it to him within the week.  From the tone of the conversation I think he was expecting me to print the information, place it in a envelope and mail it to him.  Being that he was "old school" he would have gladly received my letter, opened it and manually input the data into his computer. In this day and age that seemed crazy to me.  So I wrote my own family group sheet email template and sent him all my family's information.

I plan on using this for people who are comfortable with email but not as comfortable with their computer to do any kind of data exports.  This will get them the information more rapidly.  This method could also be used to solicit information from busy people who won't sit down and fill out paper work and mail it back to you but would fill out blanks in a email and hit the reply button.  This will make your life easier as you can just copy and paste the data into your computer.

There are other ways that you could get tech savvy such as shared Google doc but I find keeping it simple helps you to be able to do more genealogy and less technical support.  You can also fill in any information that you already have and customize the information collected for older children (who live elsewhere and have occupations) or younger children (who presumably live at home).

There is a chance (even a good chance) that my relative will take my email, print it out and input the data manually into his computer.  Rather than send a tutorial of how to copy and paste in Windows, I take assurance that he has the information that he requested.

Sample Family group email chart

Your Name:
Date of Birth:


Spouse DOB:


Child 1 Name
C1 DOB: 

Child 2 Name
C2 DOB: 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Exploring Private Achives

So you have searched the national, state and even some county archives in your genealogical journey.  You may have a birth certificate, a death record or even a pension record.  But is this all that is available about a persons life? 

There is possibility that more informational about the person in a private archives.  Whether this was at a place the person worked for, school they attended or an organization that they were affiliated with.  Finding these resources can be more difficult but many publish how to make inquires on their websites.  Your relative many be part of a larger collection at the historical society or be in the archives of a large university. 

This falls under the "leave no stone unturned" genealogy process.

Personal story:
I found out that a great great uncle of my mine was a Catholic priest.  I had received a picture of him in a stack of pictures that got handed down from a relative that had recently died.  Some of my older relatives were able to fill in a little about him like his name, but since he had no descendants, no one was really close to him.  The most information that I found out was his name and that he was a a priest in Baltimore.  That is not a lot of information, but it was something. 

Doing research into the subject, I was able to find out that the Archdiocese of Baltimore being the oldest Catholic diocese in the United States maintains an archives at St. Mary's Seminary and University, the oldest Catholic seminary in the US.  They have an extensive archives of the history of the Catholic church in Baltimore and early America.  I send a query to the full time archivist at the address on their website.

I wasn't sure what if anything would be returned.  Within a few weeks time I received a large envelope from the seminary.  In it contained the "personnel record" for my relative which stated his ordination date and a list of every parish he had been assigned to from ordination until his retirement.  It has information about his time at the seminary as well a copy of this ordination announcement.  I was very surprised with my find.

None of this would have been known had I not looked further to a private archive.  Many large corporations have achieves of employees as well as many churches.  But if you limit yourself to only public archives you may be missing our on key elements of your family story.            

Friday, February 6, 2015

Distribution - Getting the Data Out

So in an ideal world you have your computer filled with thousands of ancestors.  You are known as the family genealogist and everyone has returned the family group sheet you sent them.  If all of the data is sitting on your computer in your den how does anyone know it is there?  This is the perpetual problem of genealogy distribution.  How do we get our data in the hands of the relatives that the data is about.  There are pro and cons to all of this which cause us to keep waiting, but if we wait forever no one will ever see our efforts.

Incompleteness factor
When dealing with genealogy there is always an incompleteness factor.  The oldest ancestor we have on our chart had two parents and the youngest descendants are starting a new generation so we live in this perpetual state of not wanting to put out an incomplete product.  On solution to this is to put out a dated document such as "The Clark Family 1843-2014".  The other solution is to have a published date on the pages so the family knows that baby Emily is missing because she wasn't born yet.

Curious but not interest
Most family members will treat your book as encyclopedia.  In that they will keep it on a shelf and reference it when they have a question but not look at it regularly.  An example, "Suzie's baby is due on March 29th, wasn't that Aunt Betty's birthday?  Let's look it up." So they appreciate your research but it really doesn't effect them daily.  It is something "nice" to pass down for them.

Getting the data out in book form
One option is to print out a "book" so that people can have it on their shelf.  The best solution would be to print it once from your software and then get copy made at the office store.  If you want to get fancy and expensive you could publish a book.  Self publishing is becoming cheaper with options like Create Space by Amazon to publish books on demand.

Use the web
Creating a family genealogy website to to have all information on the web is an interesting concept.  There are two avenues to go down if you want a genealogy of the past or a family gather space of the present.  There are factors such as information, privacy concerns or access controls.  We will cover a family webpage in detail in a future post.   A website allows for easy update and distribution. 

Data on a computer in your house no matter how complete is no good unless you can get it to the people it is about.  Finding ways to creatively get out the data can be quite challenging.  In coming posts we will explore family websites as well as family calendars that list key events in the family history.  Distribution will always be a necessary and your data will always be "in progress", so get it out in the way that works best for you and your family.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Google genealogy ... how to do genealogy searches on the Internet

Google is the most powerful web search engines ever created. It has come into the lexicon as a adjective, "just Google it". And best of all it is free for all genealogy researchers. For someone who has little experience doing Internet searches a Google could lead to few results.  But by learning a few simple search techniques, the better your results might be.

Uncommon names
The more uncommon the name the better.  So searching for John Smith will be next to impossible so you may have to go in a different direction such as John's father, children or siblings.  If John has a brother named Mortimer finding Mortimer the correct Smith family will be much easier when looking for Mortimer than solely by searching for John.  You may need to come in backwards rather than starting with who you are looking for

Dates matter
One time a friend and I were both researching our family tree.  I told him I was stuck on Henry Lewis and couldn't get past him in Wales.  He said, " I have Henry Lewis in Wales too and I have three generations past him as well."  For two days we thought we might even be related through old Henry.  That was until we get our books out.  My Henry Lewis was 1792 and his was 1850 and none of his ancestors had any names in common with mine and none of my descendants fit his chart.  So our brief time as relatives ended.  When searching Google add as much information as you can about dates and try different dates such as birth marriage and death.  All dates are important because you never know if someone is researching your relatives spouses family and only has a marriage date.

Location, location, location
Tracking down someone to a county or town can help with finding the person in a Google search.  This is may or may not help.  In my own research I tracked my ancestor with and uncommon name of Manus Boyle to the town of Hazleton Pennsylvania in 1880.  But upon further research apparently Hazleton was a popular town for the Irish as there were 6 families named Boyle there in 1880 and two of them had a patriarch named Manus.  So even when I thought I found him I had not.  I had to delve deeper and compare to other information I already had to know I had the right guy.   

So when Google searching knowing the location and adding it to the search can be helpful, but also be mindful of the area as well.  I was doing a search of a local newspaper for a relative and found a great story about his weeding and the guest that were there in the society section.  But the section was for the next town over, because that it the town where the church was located.  If I had limited my self to the town he lived in without expanding to the nearby area I would have missed the story.

Major events     
Also finding your relative based on events that might have been involved with such as a war.  Searching for there name followed by the war of a particular battle may provide you a website that list more information about them or the battle that they were involved.  My paternal grandfather was a bombardier in WWII and died when my father was young.  But through Google I was able to find a website about his unit which list every mission that he went on and what the target was.      

Rank or title
Any title that your relative had will help your Google search for them.  Identifying them as doctor or Captain will help narrow down to the person you wan to find.  So if they had a title try search for them using that title. 

Search what you want
Adding what you are looking for could also narrow the results.  Adding the term "obituary" should in theory remove all living people from your search results.

All of the above
Using Google for genealogy is still a lesser source as it deals with mostly current events and people but if you have time or at a dead end it may be worth your time to spend a few hours seeing if you can get information you do not have.  But doing it the right was will lead to more fruitful results.

Examples from most general to most specific:
Name search: John Smith
Uncommon name: Mortimer Smith
With date: Mortimer Smith 1863
With location: Mortimer Smith 1863 Spotsylvania Virginia
With event : Mortimer Smith 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville
With title: Major General Mortimer Smith 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville
With what you want: Obituary of Mortimer Smith 1884 near Richmond Virginia

This should help get started with what to search, in a future post I will discuss other syntax options within Google to get even more out of your Google search and narrow down your results.