Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Twenty first century genealogy in action

Beyondthedate is proud to announce a new partnership with the online academic website the number one provider of online education.  The online education market is booming with many topics.  From the educators that I have talked to this is the direction that education is going by users taking online specific courses to grow their skill set.

What does this have to do with genealogy?
Among the courses that Udemy offers are a few but growing number of courses about genealogy.  There are courses from experts about tracing your family tree and other courses will be added as time goes by.  I also know that for many genealogist, genealogy is not there only hobby and Udemy many be a resource they were unaware of that could help develop those hobbies as well, whether they be anything from photography to yoga to computer programming.

While the genealogy course selection are small now I know they will be growing as the Udemy platforms continues to grow.  Full disclosure I am currently in the mist of creating my own genealogy related online course through Udemy that will hopefully be done in the Spring.

For now the best genealogy courses are Everything Olde is New Again! Genealogy Clan Management which can help beginners climb their family tree and understand their records. Another great genealogy related course is Develop YOUR Customized Genealogy Family Tree Board Game which is a detailed course on creating your won genealogy board game. But feel free to browse their extensive collection of courses and topics that may interest you. 

As this partnership goes on I may mention from time to time any courses of genealogical interest(especially my own)  and place a permalinks on he right hand side but I will continue to blogging about topics of interest and how to get beyond the date to get your family story both past and present.

The two online courses mentioned in this article

Everything Olde is New Again! Genealogy Clan Management Develop YOUR Customized Genealogy Family Tree Board Game

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Knowing your milestones...the genealogist historian

My grandfather tells the story that in his father's lifetime the Wright brothers flew the first airplane and the first man landed on the Moon.  In my own lifetime there has not been a man on the moon but there has been unmanned landing on Mars and the Internet as we know it was invented.  Where my great grandfather grew up in a age of transpiration advances, I am growing older in an age of technological advances.

Being aware of the greater world and how it is changing adds depth to your genealogy.  These things have a place in the narrative of your genealogy so the future generation can know what you experience. In a narrative in my grandfathers genealogy he writes a story of how his father remembers the streetlights being lit by hand every night in the city.  As someone born after prevalence of home electricity and indoor plumbing, stories about how my relatives lived in before these things and found it normal, is fascinating.  It makes me stop and appreciate the modern conveniences that I take for granted.

Your personal milestones only become apparent in hindsight.  Technology develops over time.  If my great grandfather heard about the Wright brothers first flight, he might have thought they did something interesting, but there is no way he could have possibly conceived that it would lead to modern air travel let alone a trip to the Moon.  But all of those things happened as time passed.

Keep track of the modern world and how it is changing and note it in narratives in your genealogy so that future generations can look back and wonder how you ever survived without a flying car or your teleportation device to get to work in seconds.     

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Telegraph, Telephone, Tell Aunt Ethel

Genealogy is a two way street.  Most of the time we are going backwards looking for ancestors from the past but we must also continue to document current history as well.  People are having babies all the time and as the generations get further apart is becomes more difficult to keep up with the new arrivals.  So as a genealogist you need to have systems in place to keep tabs on distant families note worth news.   

Closeness matters
In an ideal world you would receive a announcement or a least a Christmas card from every living family in your genealogy program with an update on an wedding, graduation or births that have occurred in the recent years.  But we don't have an ideal world and when you start to get to 2nd and 3rd cousins it is not practical or affordable to send out those thing to people you hardly know.  It is easy to get information from local relative or close relatives that you see throughout the year but what about the rest.

Relying on the relations to of others
Though you may not be close to the distant relatives perhaps you are close to someone who is close to them.  A personal example is that my Uncle was closer to some of the my fathers cousins than my father.  My Uncle saw them more frequently so to get genealogy information on who was having a baby or getting married in that family who I only saw at the occasional funeral or the once in a while family reunion, I would get the information from my Uncle who what happy to share the information he received when he saw them last.

When lines break
The problem with the "relative of a relative" situation is that communication lines can break.  In my own example my uncle died.  So the news out of the cousins family ceased.  Luckily my father has a cousin on that side of the family that he sees more than I do so, he is able to get births and marriages more frequently than next funeral but not as frequely as my uncle used to deliver.  But sometimes you have to take what you can get.

"Aunt Ethel"
Many families have a central figure that always seems to have the news on everyone.  The person usually is older and has ties to multiple families.  It may be a grandmother, or a Aunt but they are the one everyone sends the an obligatory birth and wedding announcement too, as well as the most recent school picture of the kids.  As the family genealogist, you need to make it a point to call or visit "Aunt Ethel" first to see how she is doing and secondly to be able to get a hold of her treasure trove  of genealogy information both past and present. 

As I have posted before Facebook can be a genealogical resource for distant relatives.  But Facebook also has its limitation.  People generally only friend people they know.  So if you friend your 20 year old great niece, you may be the only one of her "friends" over 40 which could have some awkward things coming through your news feed if she even accepts your request.  But friending relatives that you know and are you own age could also get you genealogy information when they post about new grandchildren.

So when trying to get names down the tree rather than up, it is good to have strategic placed relatives that can give you all of the news of distant families that are also descendants of your relatives.  As the generations continue the names that you put in as babies will be having babies of their own and you need to be ready to document them as best as you can.                    

Thursday, November 6, 2014

21st century genealogy... looking forward while looking back

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In the late eighties, shortly after my grandfather retired he decide to take up genealogy as his retirement hobby.  So he purchased a new computer and genealogy software.  He had a DOS based computer which ran the Roots III software program.  He began putting all of his names, dates and locations into the software.  Through the 90's he upgraded computers and software, moving up to a windows based computer and upgrading to Roots IV and then to Ultimate Family Tree when the company that made the Roots software got bought out.  On Ultimate Family Tree he stayed.  

I recently got a call from him that his a new computer with Window 8 on it would not run the old genealogy software.  He is so use to the interface of UFT he doesn't want to learn a new software but  the old software won't work.  As an IT person, I hope to be able to discuss with him over the holidays the problem.  I have emailed him a possible solution but need to see if they worked for him.  I hope to be able to visit him to get it fixed before the new year.  

Keeping up with changing technology
I tell this story not to solicit advice for an old software but the point of the story is this: Are you keeping up with technology of the future, as you continue your family journey in to the past.  It is difficult to change to an new program once you have mastered the nuances and shortcuts of another program.  Are you prepared if your hard drive crashed for what you would do, not only for back ups, but for transferring to a new machine.  Hard drive crashes happen everyday, so we have to be prepared for them.  We must also keep up when our software is out of date.  There are various resources in the genealogy community that have been available for years, such as a GEDCOM file that should help transition to a more modern software.  But we also have to look at how is the industry leader when picking software.  And also look at the possibly that the days of buying software at a store that come with 2 or 3 CD ROMs to load the program on the computer may be coming to an end.  The world is going wireless and cloud based and software is downloaded no longer bough as it was in times past. That too comes with risks and caveats.  Trusting the cloud and having your tree online is great but also has risks to doing so with things that are not always tangible or accessible and you many not have recourse if you are not backed up with a hard copy.  Keeping all things online could wind up in you having nothing at all if the service goes down. 

Utilizing new technology
As we discussed in the post about smartphones there are millions of apps and websites for genealogies to try.  Some will be junk but some might be helpful.  This is also true about websites.  An example was that I was putting names into Google to see what might come up.  I was dealing with an rather unusual name so it was easier to sort the results.  I found a website of the survivors of a Air Force unit that my other grandfather had been a part of in WWII.  It listed all the bombing runs that he had done over Europe as well as the crew of each mission.  This was info that no one in my family had and i found in on Google.   

Depending on how much you watch TV you have seen that has been putting out and ad campaign to get new users. This can be a start but it is not always as easy as they make is seem and doesn't have all of the genealogy resources wrapped up yet.  So I remain neutral on if an membership is right for you.  But know that there are many things you can find just perusing the Internet.  Many things that we previously only found in library are now finding their way to the Internet.  Some for free and some with a price.  You have to decide what resources are right for you and how much they are worth to you.  

If you are still finding all of your info in the library or archives (both great sources) and not looking what modern technology has done for genealogy in the form of the Internet or genealogy software and resources then you are handicapping yourself and your research.  If you still have your ten year old computer with old irreplaceable software that is not longer supported and no modern day back up of USB sticks or CDs for all of your thousands of names then you are playing with fire and all your work could go up in a puff of smoke.        

Friday, October 3, 2014

Knowing where the family records are, even if you don't have them

I have a copy of my great-great grandfather's civil war discharge and pension papers.  The copy I have is from the original that he received upon discharge in 1864.  I do not have the original and even though I act as the family genealogist, I am not really entitled to the original just because I have an computer with some names in it. 

My great-great grandfather's had 6 kids and each of those kids had between 3 and 8 kids and that only puts me at my grandfathers generation, there are about a hundred more people a generation below that.  The point is that I am one of hundreds of people who is a direct descendent to him.  The record is also in the archives if the copy in the family ever gets lost.  I was fortunate enough to talk a great uncle into letting me get one copy of the fragile document many years ago before he died.  From that one good copy I made many more copies and scans.

When my great uncle passed away that documents went to his son.  I assume they are still with him since everyone should realize the significances of the document.  The 1980's cartoon series G.I.Joe always ended each episode with a life lesson and the catch phase "...and knowing is half the battle." This phase also holds true for original documents that you have as much right to as everyone else.  Knowing where they are, having and copy for yourself and knowing that they are safe is half the battle, there is no need to fight over getting the original.

Not yours to take 
Once things go out 2 or more generations, many more people have a sake to claim on holding the original.  While it is imperative to make sure the document or picture are safe and trying to get a copy even if you have to drive the owner to Office Max so they can see you make the copy and give it back to them, you do not have to have the original and you may not be entitled to it.  But knowing where the original is, "is half the battle." 

If my house ever caught on fire and my fireproof safe where I keep important documents failed, I would know where I could get another copy of the document.  Historic documents get lost and destroyed all the time, but if they are in the family and you know who has them, you can sleep well at night with your copy.

 If you are concerned about the document, it wouldn't hurt to reach out to the family member about preservation techniques to make sure they are about to pass down the document to their family as well.  Originals are wonderful but if 100 people are just as entitled to them as you, then a copy might have to be good enough. Knowing where the originals are and even noting that in your research can give future generations an idea of what family line they went down.  

The other side of the coin
There are occasions when people want you as the family genealogist to take the original, since they might not have an interest or storage.  This might be true of pictures of distant relative that have not descendants. Great Uncle Sal was a life long bachelor, so when cousin Kelly got a box of his personal items she didn't want to throw them away and wanted you to have the box because you are the keeper of the genealogy.

In genealogy, you can end up with a lot of "stuff", books, pictures, documents and letters.  It is important to hold on to the things you get and get copies of the things you don't possess, but if you had everything you would need another whole house just to store it.  So be happy with what you have and hope that future generations have the room to store even more generations of family significance.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Social Science of Genealogy or Finding the Why?

Often times in genealogy there is a disconnect between the name of a person and the concept that this was a real person who had day to day struggles and made life decisions.  It's easy to get caught up in a static picture that of John Miller (1850-1910) who was a farmer.  But to get into the life of John Miller we have to look at where he lived, why he lived there and what he did on a daily basis.  You are more than dates and an occupation, so why limit John Miller to that too.

 Let's look at the whys of life rather than just the who, where and when

Location Why 
Knowing where relatives lived is interesting (census records are good for placing them in a location every ten years) but finding out why they got there or how they decided to pick that location is even more interesting.  It's one thing to look at immigrants, they left home due to war or famine or to seek new opportunity.  But it is another to look at where they went when they got here.  Did they move to a location because of a job specialty, because of a large ethnic population that matched them or did they have relatives here already?   Don't just accept that in 1870 your great great father is living in Hazleton, Pennsylvania.  Think about if he was there for work, living temporarily there after being discharge are the Civil War?  Understanding the world around him at the time helps us draw better conclusions.   

No two people are the same now and they weren't then either.  So how is it that two Irishmen get off the same boat in the same port but one ends up farming in Maryland and one ends up living in New York City.  Seeing why they went different ways will help understand them better as people.    

Occupation Why
Another thing to look at is what your distant relatives did for a living and why.  Most of us don't come from lines of Rockefeller so our relatives were working class folks.  But why did they choose that profession.  If your Italian relatives got off the boat and moved to the city and started a restaurant, was that because they had great cooking skills that they brought with them.  Many times people get into profession their parents were in.  Was your grandfather a farmer because his father was a farmer, or did he specifically not become a farmer because he had other aspirations?  I have a relative who had a farm but for a living had a business that blew up tree stumps with dynamite.  He may have obtained this skill during the Civil War and turned it into a career after discharge.   People both then and now use their skills and talents to make money.

Occupational and location can go hand in hand
The point is that names and dates don't tell the whole story and the genealogist job is to put him or herself into the mind of the person.  One last personal example, I have a relative from around the turn of the century that I followed in three censuses in the first one he was at home, the second he was in St. Louis and the third he was back at home.  I could read a lot into this but with further digging I found out that he was in the publishing business and since he had 3 bothers already on the farm he left to go to St. Louis which at the time was a hub for publishers.  While in St. Louis he contracted Tuberculosis during an outbreak of while he was there.  He came home so that he could die at home with his family.  Census records and dates won't tell that story and if I was guessing I would have thought homesick or unemployment.  But the real story is more meaningful to my family tree.   

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What classifies a recent photo

Having photos in your genealogy is great I would say even essential.  But what is the best way to keep them up to date and how should you update them?  The good news is that genealogy is a history subject rather than an missing person search(even thought it can be that at times too).  By this I mean that you are not handing out these photos for identification but a representation of what the people looked like at a point in time. 

Importance of updated pictures
Updated pictures are important if your are going to a reunion and want to know who you will be seeing.  If all your photos are from the 1970's you will be assured that you will not be able to identify anyone.  The baby is now 35 years old.  So having updated images can be helpful in this purpose.

Getting updated photo
 The best way to get updated photos is a "take it when you see them" mentality.  It may behoove you to start to bring a digital camera to function and trying to get a mug shot of everyone to connect to their profile in your genealogy.  Some functions such as family reunions lend themselves to this more than others (i.e.funerals).  Also scanning in pictures from Christmas cards is a way to update photos as well   Anytime you see the person or a picture of a person that is more recent than the one you have you should find a way to capture it.

Final photos
The fact is that over a lifetime people are constantly changing.  So having the best photo of person attached to them in your genealogy is important.  How do you want to remember them?  Just because a person died at 80 does not mean that you have to have a photo of them at 79 as the primary picture of them in the genealogy.  Having a picture of them as young and vibrant may better suit your purposes of telling the story of their life.  


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

When bad things happen

Great Uncle Bob was a cattle thief in Texas... Aunt Bertha lived in a insane asylum for 20 years.  Uncle Ted died of a drug overdose.  These events tell part of the genealogy story and are interesting, but what is the best way to document uncomfortable situations that happen in life.

Life is not perfect and our genealogy should reflect that.  Thought we must be tactful when documenting the tragedies of other family members.

/*Phone Rings*/
A: Hello
B: Hi this is cousin Joe, I just need to get the proper spelling of the prison that your husband was sentenced to last week.  It for my genealogy, thanks.
 A: /* hangs up phone */

This example is not the proper tack and too soon.

Dealing with difficult situations take discretion.  Does the family want the event recorded.  It is significant enough to merit recording.  I once had the family of a distant cousin request removal of a divorced spouse because of a domestic violence situation they didn't want to see his name in writing or have anything to do with him.  A situation like that is a judgement call on the part of the genealogist.  Alienate the family for the sake of the future generations or follow their wishes and be without one name?

Purpose and relevance
The devil is in the details.  Why are you recording this information.  There is a difference between Grandpa Joe was in juvenile hall for a week when he was 12 and Uncle Sal was sentenced to 30 to life when he was 40.  The relevance and the impact on the family tree are judgement calls. 

Not over yet
There is also the issue of closure.  There are many wonderful stories of people coming out of tragic turning their lives around and becoming productive citizens. Just because some one is down does not mean they are out and it may behoove you to not enter the story until they complete it.  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Recording Other Religous Events

As genealogies we are fixated on BMD(birth, marriage, death) but what about other significant events in peoples life, specifically religious events.  While you may not share the religious tradition with that person or know the meaning of the event, having it in the family history can be significant for future generations.  Having documentation (photos, invitations etc.) adds to the overall picture of the person. 
Beyond the wedding.  
While a majority of weddings have some kind of religion meaning affiliated with them and we note the date the two people married.  We should go beyond that for more religious families.  I heard a joke from a priest that the people now a days come to his church to hatch, match and dispatch.  (translation: baptism, marriage and burial).  If that is the trend, capturing religious events might not apply to your family.  

In some families it is significant and should be recorded.  I am talking about events like confirmations, first communions and  bar mitzvahs, possibly expanding to ordination into ministry.  These kind of events usually don’t grace the pages of our genealogy book, but it would interesting to see where and when granddad received a religious sacrament.

I’m not saying you have to record every place or time the little Joey goes to Sunday School (though you could).  But noting the significant events (that require a Hallmark card) no matter the faith tradition or your own understanding of it’s significance.  This could even be an opportunity to talk with someone about what it means to them to receive this event and include that in the genealogy too.   


Monday, May 5, 2014

Asking for a resume?

In the olden days people apprenticed for and became an occupation, usually in the family.  People were farmers or blacksmiths and that’s what they did.  In more recent times people worked for a company for a lifetime then retired with their pension (“Great Uncle Joe worked for Bethlehem Steel”).  You may not have the actual job but you knew he was a steelworker. As genealogist we had that information in the records filed under occupation.  

The problem is that occupation is not longer occupation.  People move from company to company and from job to job and it is getting harder to document all the transitions in peoples lives.  The solution is to get the information straight from the horse's mouth and ask for a resume.  If a person is willing to give a resume to a random HR person, why not the family genealogist?  

Having a resume tracks the timeline of where a person worked and what they did.  So if Aunt Sue was a corporate mogul then quit to open a cupcake shop, you have a record of it.  This does not even have to be the person’s “official” resume.  It is more of a work history with dates, company and job title.  Having this you can keep up with the past work history and come back for future changes.  

If the person does not have a resume just go through and ask where they worked, when and for how long.  Write up the work history and add it to the family story.

People are more mobile than ever and job titles can be deceiving about what they actually do. Asking for a resume and putting into your software is a novel way to document occupation.  So if a future generation goes to work for IBM, instead of saying "your Uncle Bill worked there in the 1980's" you can say "Uncle Bill worked there from 1985-1988 as a Systems Analyst in the Washington DC field office."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

One story... One recipe... with meaning

Note: Thank you to all of you for the well wishes on the birth of my child.  Mother and baby are doing well.  

One Story...

Summer is a time for family gatherings and functions (or dysfunction depending on your family).  This is also a time for what I refer to as “genealogy on the go”.  This is the time when you have family members that you may only see once a year and you don’t have a lot of time to sit with in depth conversation with everyone(or anyone sometimes).  But it is still a great time to gather useful stories to add to your genealogy records.

During this time together it is great to get one good story that you are unfamiliar with, how people met, first dates, military time.and the like.  This will get you interesting information that you did not know before.  Avoid controversial subjects and keep it light.  I recently got a recap of my fathers time during the draft and I know that the first date my grandparents went on was to see Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein (my grandmother fell asleep during the movie).  These short concise stories allow for more conversation than the typical “how have you been” conversations that can lead to nothing.  I once witnessed two of my relative talking that have not seen each other in over a decade and the conversation went as follows”

R1: “And how have things been going with you?”
R2: “Same old, Same old.”
So much for open ended questions.

But quick jogs down memory lane even if others know the story and you don’t, unless they have them written down, nobody will know the story in fifty years and we will have more questions than answers.  These are interesting party conversations that make up genealogy for the future generations that can be passed down while not taking a lot of time to get the story.

One recipe...

Many families have a traditional food that always makes its way onto the holiday table.  This may be something that everyone likes or may be something that nobody likes.  But what is the story behind this food and how did it come to land on our table.  It’s too easy to say “grandma always had it for Christmas”.  Try and find out why grandma had it, was it native to the area she grew up?  Was it something brought over from the old country?  

My personal family food is Hominy, a white corn product.  I was never sure what it was but it appeared on the table year after year.  I had no problem with it, it was tasty, but no one outside of my family knew what i was talking about when I referred to it.  My family food origin came from my grandmothers Pennsylvania Dutch roots as it was a tradition for them.  

Finding out the origin of a food that is always there brings more genealogical significance to it, though it may not make it taste better .  You may also want to look into getting the recipe  so even if you don’t like the particular dish you can have a record that it exist so that if someone down the road wanted to see what it was like it will not only be the stuff of legends but something that is tangible and repeatable and full of memories and meaning.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

More to come soon

Just a note that I will not be updating for the next couple of weeks as my wife and I are expecting a new baby.  In chaos of bring home the new bundle of joy I will not be able to publish as frequently as usual. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Do not forget about the living...especally the elderly and the interesting

Older relatives (relatively speaking) provide tremendous insight into the past.  This is a source of information that is commonly overlooked as we are searching the library for dates from centuries ago.  This website is all about getting the story of relatives and going “beyond the date” and conversation with the living is an excellent way to do that.   

It not just “the elderly” but also about “the interesting”, both have their purpose in your genealogy.  The goal is about documenting the story for your interest but also for future generations when they decide to take an interest (and that could be a while).  

The Elderly
First the elderly are a window into the past and their stories will not be here forever, if you don’t get the stories now they may take them with them when they go.  Anyone who has been doing family research has regrets about stories they would have liked to have heard about or questions they would have liked to asked to older relatives.  Even simple questions like “Did you have any aunts or uncles” could have answered many questions had they been asked.  But some relatives take extremely useful(from a research perspective) answers with them or simply forget over time.  So getting to them as soon as possible it necessary.  

Depending on your age you may be the oldest living relative if that is the case thats ok, write down your childhood memories.  Did you remember your parents? your grandparents? what were they like what memories to do you have of them.  Family stories about the great- great grandfather who was in the Civil War would never wear a grey suit.  Or the Great uncle that never wore shoes.  These kind of stories need to be written down or they won’t get passed down.  

If you are not the oldest who is, what do they remember?  Everyone is different, some people have sharp vivid memories while others forget information shortly after hearing it.  Everyone is important and you might need to ask many people to get the full stories.  One might have a general idea and another might have a fuller picture but there is also the chance that a third person will say that the first two were wrong.    

Make time and use technology (modern and old fashioned) Its all well and good to want to get these stories but the holder of the stories could live many hours or states(or countries)  away.  These stories are still valuable and still obtainable.   

The Interesting
The interesting, its not all about the elderly that have stories to tell.  Most people have fairly typical current stories to tell they were married in a certain year they have 2.5 children and have worked in a particular field for so many years.  These stories are important and need to be documented, but the interesting stories a the atypical ones that should be documented more in depth.  This category is the one that falls out of the norm.  Is there a half-uncle in Alaska?  How did he end up there and why did he stay?  Is there an uncle that was a cook on cargo ships for 20 years?  What memories does he have of that experience?  Some of these stories can be turn out to be sad but sometimes they turn out to defining experience in the lives of the people you are talking to.

The elderly in the interesting have stories to tell we just need to get to them and get them documented before they forget them or take them with them.

My next post i will offer 10 tips for interviewing the living for genealogy purposes.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Cemetery hopping with kids

Respectful,  Educational and Engaging

Photo by Oregon Department of Transportation found on

When tracking relative it will eventually lead you to the to graveyard.  Most genealogist want to get their dates from the source that is etched in stone.  Death certificates are great but they are not etched in stone. Although there can be discrepancies with grave markers too, they are nice to have in your collection of evidence of a person.  

One of my earliest genealogy memories is going cemetery hunting with my grandparents.  I don’t remember who we saw but I remember reading the stones and posing for pictures with distance relatives.

Morbid for some, memories for me.

Some of you may think that you may never get to that point because of kids.

You: “Cemetery hopping would be great but I can’t I’ve got small kids.”  
Me: “Totally understandable but why not take them along.”
You: “You don’t know my kids”  

Taking kids cemetery can be a family affair if it’s done correctly by making it a fun event that engages and educates. The following tips can be helpful for a successful trip to the grave yard

Make it an event and plan it out

- Plan this out in advance with a plan that involves everyone.  This is not something we are going to fit in before the grocery store on our list of errands.  

- Map out where you are going.  Try to not make it too far away or incorporate some other event with it (local restaurant maybe)

- Who is going to be there.  Explain who is buried there and how the children are related to them.  Do you have a story about the person to make it personal.  It’s funny when a child can relate to the stone of the person “It this the woman that made ugly sweaters?” “Is this the uncle that never wore shoes?” The funnier the story the better.  “Is this the great uncle that was buried in daddy’s suit because PopPop pulled the wrong one out of the closet to give the funeral home?”      

When you arrive

- Enlist the kids to help find the marker.  “We are looking for Smith not Jones because it is moms side of the family?”

- Take your data with you.  It is not unusual  to find someone not in your direct line but related in the area.  If you have your data with you.  “Lets see who that is, that is Great Great Uncle Tom, he died before he got married.”

- Be respectful.  Make sure the kids understand respect for the dead, you are there to learn about relatives not play. Grave markers are not jungle gyms.  This is especially true if there is a funeral going on.

- Explore a little, are all the relatives in one section or are they spread out? If there are any particular markers or statues that are unique you might want to get a closer look at them.  

-  Plan not to take too much time mourning.  If your parents or a close relative is buried there it might be nice to bring some flowers but don’t expect too much alone time with kids around.

- Do an activity besides flowers, rubbing are good to have.  Take a pencil and and sheet of computer paper, place the paper on the stone and rub the letters onto the paper.  Bring plenty of paper and pencils as this takes practice

- Get some pictures.  Some kids might not like the idea but many will pose right up to the stone and get in a picture.

-  Don’t forget why you are there.  You get so caught up that you forget you are there to verify dates with the info you already have.  Take picture(with your smartphone) of the stones and reference where in the cemetery they are.  

Lastly don’t over do it.  Doing this activity with kids is not something to be done too often.  Doing this more than a couple time a year is plenty or it will lose the fun of it.

On a side note in some traditions it is acceptable to have picnics at the cemetery.  This is too Adam’s family for my taste but if you want to take a blanket and basket and have lunch with the dead be my guest. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Get that eulogy - Adding a funeral eulogy to your genealogy

At a funeral recently for my uncle, a niece of his that I was not that close to because of age and distance gave a wonderful eulogy about my uncle including christmas memories, trips to the ocean, and his famous distinct dark blue suit that he apparently wore to every formal function he had been to in the last decade (He had worn it to her wedding 7 years prior, just like he had worn it to mine more recently).  

Some of these stories were familiar to me, other I was just hearing for the first time.  So at the reception after the burial I commented to my cousin.  “Jane, that was a great eulogy, I would love to have a copy for the family genealogy.”  She said sure and I gave her my email address.  She was true to her word and three days later, a word document with the entire eulogy arrived in my inbox.  Had I not asked for it, those memories would have stayed in the church.  But now all the family can have a better understanding of who he was for generations to come.  

While I have my own memories that I could include, having an “official” eulogy that was given in public to a church full of people has more weight behind it.  While a video or audio recording would be inappropriate, the text of a eulogy is excellent for those who were not there or for those who were there to read and remember.    

I recommend asking for a eulogy if you feel comfortable so that others can understand the person more, as it was given by someone who knew them.

Notes on getting the eulogy:

- Be careful and sensitive to who you ask, you may have to wait a few weeks to ask for it if the person giving it was close to the deceased.  

- Along the same lines use discretion on when you ask.  Ask in a relaxed setting perhaps at a reception instead of at the funeral service.  

- Family eulogies are preferred to those of religious officials(ministers, priest, rabbi, etc) unless they knew the person, otherwise they are probably just wrote something based off the meeting with the family or the obituary.  

- A text might not exist.  Some people are excellent speakers and don’t use notes and speak from the cuff.  

- Make it easy.  Give them your email address on something other than a cocktail napkin that might get laundered or tossed.

- Try and get a soft copy so it will be easier to transfer on to the computer.  Copy and paste is much better than transcribing 5 pages of text, but transcribing is better than nothing at all.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Genealogy books for kids

When I was about eight years old my grandfather bought me the book My Family Tree Workbook (Dover Children's Activity Books), before he gave it to me he filled out the pages about himself and my grandmother (including pictures of him and her much younger).  Twenty plus years later I still credit this book with the beginning of my love for genealogy.  This book is for small children and is more about gathering information about people in the family.  It does not go into the nuances of research or how to research.  It is about getting a data about your own family (where they grew up, hobbies, etc.) with a big box to put a picture.  If you are trying to start a budding genealogist, this is your book.  This would be a great resource for giving to a child before a family reunion or function.  This would give them a reason to go up to and talk to relatives they otherwise would not know.  

Being a simple book it ask questions and puts lines so that the child can start with himself or herself and work their way back.  If also covers some introductory information about pedigree charts and family crests.  The book sprinkles in information on how to get more information and how to correspond with others.  

The limitations of this book is that it was published in 1982.  This limits the about it could tell about Internet or computers.  But that is not the purpose of this book.  This book is designed to be and self encompassing workbook for climbing an individual family tree.   That aspect is timeless and does not require technology.  Being that the designated age is between 9-12, it would hardly be expected that the child will be upset that this book do not have a database program with it.  This book is more of another activity book where the child can take notes about the questions and begin their quest to know the connections to the past and where they came from.       

Another highly recommended book for kids is Roots for Kids: A Genealogy Guide for Young People. 2nd Edition this book is geared towards school aged kids and talks much more about research and searching.  I don’t have much exposure to this book other than recommendations for others.  From the review it looks to be more advanced than the other book, which could make it a good step up from other book..  This book has more details about research and types of research and charts.  Both books are highly recommend though for different ages and different purposes.  

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Facebook Genealogy

Since its creation in 2004 Facebook has amassed over a billion users, chances are that many of them are related to you and you may not even know it.  Doing a google search of “facebook genealogy” will yield many results.  From facebook genealogy apps to networking with other researchers.  But many article miss a basic fact about facebook, is that there are real people there who are related to you and have memories of genealogical significant stories and events that you do not have and that are not written down.  

Start with your "friends"

Go through your friends list

Login to facebook and look at your friend list.  How many of them are related to you?  How many of them are outside of your immediate family?  Of those people how many of them to do have a complete genealogy profile(with pictures) in your genealogy records?  If you said no to the last question, those people have information that you want and they are right there in front of you.  They may also have friends in their friend list that are related to you that you are not friends with.

These are excellent resources that can be turned into valuable genealogical information.  

It's all in the approach

The best way to get information that you need to is to ask for it by sending a message to the person who has some information.  

An example message to a cousin you know.

Hey Bill,
  As you may (or may not) know.  I have been doing genealogy in my spare time and wanted to know if you could give me some information about your family.  I am particularly interested in your parents (my Mother's sister) and what you could tell me about them and if you yourself may have any stories you remember about our grandmother than you would want to share.  I would like to continue to be in touch with you for specific dates, people and places for people in our family tree.

Linda (your first cousin)

Worst case: Bill deletes your message or Bill never logs in in anymore to read messages and you get no reply and you have wasted two minutes on facebook (like you have never done that before).

Best case: Bill is intrigued by you request, had information he wants to share.  And guess what his mother just got on to Facebook last year so she could see pics of the grandchildren and is happily accepting friend requests of people she knows.

Attempting to friend a more distant cousin.  

1. Note a common relative
2. Start slow and be precises (to avoid looking like a scam)
3. Don’t worry if you do not get a response
4 Don’t nag or you will be blocked :)

Dear Meg,
  My name is Linda Jones and I am your second cousin.  I got your name through your brother Joel.  You grandmother (Betsy Smith) and my grandmother (Grace Johnson) were sisters.  I have been doing research on the family tree and I was trying to get new information.  I am hoping to friend you so that you could share any family stories that would be interesting for the rest of the family about you, your parents or your grandparents.  I look forward to talking to you.


Worst case: Meg doesn’t friend you and you never hear from her again.  

Best case: Meg friends you and has stories to share with you about your relatives.


Facebook is a powerful tool that is making the world smaller and many of the people on the largest social network in the world are related to you.  Facebook has many genealogy apps that can range from interesting to useless, we hope to review them in the future to differentiate some of them in the future.