Writing An Ancestor Short Biography

Courtesy of Clipart Library

Two weeks ago I blogged about the discovery I made regarding submitting a short biography to my state genealogical society about my pioneering ancestor’s life. I’ve had several readers request ideas on how to get started.

First, relax! You aren’t writing a book so there is little time involved. I think the hardest part is to decide who to select to begin with. For my project, I decided to start with my husband’s lines and select the ancestor that was the earliest pioneer in the area. I then wrote a bio on his wife, their daughter that is my husband’s direct relative, the daughter’s husband, and so on down to his parents. I then did the same for my lines. But that was just me! You can pick anyone you like and go in any direction. Sure, typically in genealogy it’s best practice to go backward in time from present to past but if you already have the research done it makes no difference in who you select to highlight.

Second, if you are submitting the bio to a website then make sure you understand and follow their directions. If you aren’t sure, send a query before you waste your time and theirs.

If the site has a form filler, as mine does, it’s simple to bring up your tree and just type in the info that the form requests. I have two screens on my computer and can definitely use a third (hint, hint hubby!) so this makes the writing easy. If you have one screen only, you could toggle between your tree and the site or borrow a laptop/iPad/kindle to bring up the tree on that device. You can also do a screen print of the ancestor’s information and print but let’s keep that as a last option since we really don’t want to be killing trees for this project.

Next, you are writing in the third person which means you don’t use the word “I.” This is a biography and not an autobiography, which is about you. I’ve written earlier this year about writing your memoir. Biographies are all in the past tense because the person lived then and not now.

Keep it short and simple! Begin with the person’s start in life, such as “James Edward Jones was born on 1 May 1800 in what is now Trumbull County, Ohio. He was the third son and fifth child of Harold and Margaret Ann Hodge Jones.” It’s easy to switch to the next bio by just shuffling the facts presented. Here’s an example:  “On 1 May 1800, in what is now Trumbull County, Ohio, James Edward Jones, the third son of five children, was born to Harold and Margaret Ann Hodge Jones.” 

If you have information about James’ early life add it. You might not and that’s not a problem; just write next whatever you’ve discovered. It might be a marriage and children that follow. Look at census records to determine the career and location. Review the property records you’ve found and include where the family resided. Perhaps a big event occurred during the individual’s life, such as war, famine, pandemic, etc. that should be included. If the ancestor made a significant accomplishment in his community or the world make sure to note it. Most of our forebears did not so don’t feel that the individual isn’t worthy of memorializing.

End your biography with information from the death certificate, if available, obituary, family Bible, or community death index. Note where the person is buried, if known. If a significant contribution was made to the world, then note that as a reminder to the reader of the valuable service that the person made. One of my husband’s ancestors, Samuel August Samuelson, was injured during the Civil War, continued to fight for the Union with a gunshot wound and broken shoulder, was taken as a POW, and overcame his disability to farm 439 acres. He met an untimely death, being killed on his sleigh by a train that was not following safety guidelines. His community was in an uproar and legislation was enacted at the state level because of the accident that killed him. Due to the unfortunate accident, we’re all a little safer around train tracks these days.

Most of our ancestors, however, were simple, hard-working folks who paid their taxes, voted, and left few other records. I believe they should be remembered, too, for doing the best they could during the trying times in which they lived.

Next week, I’ll begin a two-part blog on how I broke through a 44-year brick wall.

Genealogy Holiday Gift Guide

Photo courtesy of Nordstrom

It’s that time of the year again; the dreaded question of what do I get my ancestor-hunting family member for the holidays? Here are 10 gift ideas:

1. Clear Research Bag – I love mine as I can keep everything I need for boots-on-the-ground research in one place. Guards like it, too, as they can readily see you are not bringing in a dreaded ink pen, red especially, into their precious collections. Available on Amazon.

2. Genealogists like to take notes, make lists, research plans, and remember hints that are discovered that don’t quite fit with what they’re currently working on. These notebooks, available in two sizes, are perfect for jotting down ideas and odd finds. Available on Amazon and in a larger format.

3. For the home office, a desk organizer is so helpful! Fill it with the right stuff – mechanical pencils so no sharpener is needed, red pens for underlining important info on lineage society Apps, a transparent ruler to keep those lines straight, plastic clips to hold papers without worrying about rust, a magnifying glass for those hard to read old documents, calculator to determine age, and post-it notes for flagging finds in books. Yes, all are available on Amazon but it’s less expensive at Staples.

4. I’m really trying to save trees but sometimes you just have to print. A ream of acid-free paper, print cartridges, and a packet of sheet protectors are definitely useful. Throw in a binder and your gift is complete.

5. I love my Dymo label maker. I can print out an address quickly for snail mail connections. I’ve labeled binders and file folders so everything can be found easily. In the past, I  even used them for citations, then placed the label on a notebook page so when I went to the library, I could take notes under the citation. I use tech now but if your genealogist is old school, a Dymo is a good way to get them started using tech as it’s simple to install and use.

6. Renew their online subscription to a loved genealogy company – in alpha order, Ancestry.com, Findmypast.com, Fold3.com, GenealogyBank.com, MyHeritage.com, Newspapers.com, etc. Go to their website to obtain an eGift Certificate. Many of these companies allow you to purchase now and extend the existing subscription to a future date but check that out before you purchase.

7. Boots-on-the-ground research is still necessary. Get family members together to chip in cash to contribute to the genealogist’s dream archive visit site. In the U.S., it may be Salt Lake City, Utah, Fort Wayne, Indiana, the National Archives in various locations, or perhaps an in-person conference. This gift will just blow them away.

8. Techie, are you? Then use your skills to video record an interview with your genealogist. Flip the tables – they’re always asking you and now it’s time for you to ask them. You can refer to my blog article here for question ideas or make it more personal – ask them “When did you begin your interest in family history?” “What has been the most difficult line you’ve researched?” “If you could meet one deceased ancestor you’ve discovered, who would it be and why?” “What ancestral home location would you love to visit?” “What ancestor just confounds you?”

9. If you’re artsy, then make a gift. My oldest decorated a mug so I can enjoy a cup of tea while I research. I’ve also been gifted over the years with t-shirts and my business logo on the bag noted in item 1. I’d even appreciate a gift basket of healthy snacks. Get creative!

10. Your time – the cost is nothing but the gift is priceless! Sure, you could care less about Great Uncle Waldo who discovered gold in them there hills but your genealogist family member would just love to tell you all about what they discovered. Humor them and schedule an hour or two after the holidays to listen and learn about your ancestors. You might surprise yourself and realize that this gift of heart was also meaningful for you.

Next week, tips on writing a short ancestor biography. Stay tuned!

Checking Your Genealogical Records

Courtesy of Nostalgic Impressions

After building your family tree you most likely have lines that you haven’t researched in a while. With every research hour you put in, you gain expertise. It’s time to go back to the far-flung branches and recheck your initial work.

Sounds like a pain, right?! Nope, I have a fun way to do it.

Since relocating to Indiana I’ve discovered that my state’s genealogical society supports a biography project. It’s called Once A Hoosier. I was surprised to see that not one of my husband or my pioneering ancestors had been included. How did that occur? Well, no one submitted a biography. If you check the location of your pioneering ancestors you’ll probably discover what I did. That means it’s time to get busy!

First, make sure your ancestor qualifies. In Indiana, the ancestor must have been born before 1950, is deceased, and lived in Indiana for part of his/her life or been buried there.

The society makes entry simple as they have a form filler to add the pioneer’s name, vitals, children/their spouses, and a space to type in a biography. You aren’t writing a book here so it’s not intimidating which makes this fun. It’s also a wonderful way to memorialize your ancestors. Most importantly, it’s a great way for you to check your records.

The form filler has no place to add citations. This could be problematic but I’m looking at it positively. We should always check out sources so, if you find an ancestor listed and you’re not able to find a source for the “fact” that was written, you can always contact the submitter for more information. This should be our best practice anyway. Not adding citations to your bio is also saving you time from having to type in a citation. As long as you can support the fact with your personal records, you’re good to go.

As I enter bios I’m fact-checking each of my citations. My husband, obviously by our surname, has a lot of Swedish ancestors. As I was writing a bio for his second great-grandmother Anna Elisabet “Lisa” Torstensdotter Erickson I questioned several pieces of information I had found for her. I had a Swedish baptism certificate and census records that never listed Elisabet as one of her names. Instead, Lisa was recorded. I checked with a Swedish genealogist to make sure I was understanding the records and discovered a lot about Swedish names. You can read more about Swedish names here. Unless you read Swedish, click Google Translate in the upper right-hand corner of the screen for English. Thank you, Annika Höstmad of Find A Swede Genealogy, for translating Lisa’s baptismal certificate and sharing this site.

We really don’t know what family called each other. After careful analysis I discovered where the name Elisabet came from – one immigration document that originated in the U.S. Elisabet was a well-used name in the family so I suspect that she may have formally been named Anna Elisabet but went by Lisa so the parish minister recorded Anna Lisa on the baptism record. Perhaps when she came to America she felt obligated to provide her formal given name. I can identify with that as it’s happened to me; I use my family’s pet name but after September 11th, I had to have many governmental records changed to reflect my formal given name on my birth certificate. So, I have an aka on most of my records now. In Anna Lisa’s case, in 1797 there were no formal governmental records so we’ll never know for sure what her given name was. I included that info in her bio.

If you’re wondering how you can get started on a bio project, simply do an internet search of the location where your pioneer ancestors resided. If a program isn’t offered or charges you and you don’t want to pay for that, then search for a larger regional society that may offer the program. I’ve discovered besides at the state level, that several Indiana counties also accept bios, too.

If you discover that your ancestor resided in a location that does not currently take bios, no worries. You can still write one up. Use any format you like or take one from a society that does offer the program. Then, .pdf it and save it with your ancestor’s records. Easy Peasy!

Boots on the Ground Remains Important

Courtesy of Aunt Becky on Findagrave.com

Do you have a family line that just fascinates you? Mine is the Duers who emigrated from England to New Jersey, moving on to what is now West Virginia and then into Ohio.

I’ve blogged before about the difficulty of identifying individuals as each generation reuses names – John, Thomas, Daniel, Joseph, and John(athan). I have been trying to prove for years that patriot John Duer (1758-1831) had a son, Thomas, who predeceased him. Thomas had a son, John, whose burial location was unknown. Both of grandson John’s wives, Jane and Margaret, were buried in Kessler Cemetery, aka Liberty, in Chattanooga, Mercer, Ohio.

Several years ago I contacted the cemetery staff and they kindly sent me a handwritten listing of burial plots. John Duer was shown buried in row 6 space 23. Unfortunately, that’s not the John I’m seeking; that John was the man I’m seeking’s son John Fred (1836-1939).

While I was in Fort Wayne recently at the genealogical library, I asked my husband to check books for cemetery records in Mercer County, Ohio. John died in Allen County, Indiana, across the border from Mercer as that is where he owned property later in life and had his will probated. No obituary has been found for him. His will omitted many of his children from his first marriage. My theory was that he was buried in an unmarked grave either in Adams County, Indiana, or in Kessler Cemetery.

My husband is not interested in genealogy and sometimes, not having a background makes for the best finds. He didn’t bother using the indexes provided in the back of the books. He scanned every page for the name John Duer. He also was looking for alternative spelling as he was aware that the original spelling was Dure. In Judith Burkhardt & Gloria Schindler. Mercer County, Ohio Cemetery Records of Liberty Township (1987) he hit gold! The last entry on the last page (52) noted in Row 15: “Next several stones missing, sunken in ground or unreadable John Duer – Unreadable”

Wow! It’s likely this was the John that I was trying to find. He wasn’t listed on the Kessler Cemetery sheet sent to me because the document only went to row 8. I had no idea I hadn’t been sent the entire cemetery listing.

I definitely need to take a trip to Kessler to see the stone for myself. I’m not holding out hope I’ll be able to glean information from the stone that was unreadable 34 years ago but I still need to make the attempt.

Interestingly, the Burkhardt & Schindler book also noted that the first wife, Jane’s, tombstone death year was 1888 which is a mistranscription. Her stone is shown above. Actually, that death year on her stone is probably also in error. John married second 11 December 1864 to widow Margaret Martz Searight. It is likely that his first wife Jane died in July 1861-4; no divorce record was found by staff who searched in Mercer County.

I definitely need to check for myself and also search divorce records in Adams County, Indiana, where John purchased a property in 1860, leaving Jane off the deed. When they lived in Holmes County she was listed as an owner with him.

I suspect her tombstone was not added until after the Civil War as the family had several sons and sons-in-law fighting for the Union. I’m thinking 1866 was the year they had the tombstone installed. Or, there was a divorce I haven’t yet found.

Boots on the ground are still necessary and it’s definitely exciting to step away from the computer to make a find in person. Kudos to my husband who made this exciting discovery for me. Happy Hunting!

Cloud Storage for Your Genealogy

Courtesy of TechCrunch

We don’t take much time to think about clouds. As a tropical storm passes to my south, I notice only grey skies today. Genealogists sometimes look to the heavens and think, where did you leave that record, great-grandpa? Those aren’t the clouds we’ll be discussing. I’m talking about tech servers that are accessed “out there” on the internet. It’s a place where your data is kept for you to retrieve anytime, anyplace.

Technically, the cloud is a misnomer; your internet-stored data is housed in a physical place somewhere on earth and not up in the big fluffy grouping of water vapor. Why is paying a company to keep your data a good idea? If you only store your data in one location, such as your lap or desktop, you risk losing all of it if the device fails. It’s unpredictable when that may occur – spilled beverage, power surge, or just system age can make your hard work disappear in a heartbeat.

Backing up to a portable hard drive or a stick is a good idea, but are you really going to do that after every new task you are working on? Will you take that bulky drive with you when you are researching in an archive? Will you carry it to your family reunion this summer to show your kin what you’ve been working on? Not likely. Both storage methods are useless without the computer itself.

The cloud enables you to access your information from any device, even if it isn’t yours. I’m not saying that is smart or safe to do that; the best practice is to only sign in to a secure device! The option, though, is available and at times, might be lifesaving.

For example, your family member was just injured and is in the emergency room. They want to know when the individual’s last tetanus shot was given. I can’t remember that stuff, especially under times of stress. I can access the cloud on my phone and retrieve the record if I have saved it there.

You probably have been using cloud technology and don’t realize it. Apple iCloud, Netflix, Yahoo, and Google Mail all keep your data in cloud storage.

There are many cloud storage companies, known as computing service providers, available to choose from. Which should you select? Whichever meets your needs and budget. The big 3 are Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. I’ve used them all but like the Dropbox app on my phone. I can scan a sales receipt, upload photos I’ve taken, or retrieve anything I’ve saved to share quickly with just a few clicks.

Saving to the cloud is easy from your computer. You can download the software to use on your desktop or you can sign in via the internet to your account, then drop and drag your information. I have noticed a slight time delay between my desktop and laptop. The transfer is not instantaneous but fairly quick. When I used to work away from home, I would place my unfinished documents in the cloud and by the time I drove home, about 45 minutes later, they would be there for me to pick up where I left off.

If you’ve uploaded a family document to Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, or any other genealogy program, you’ve used the drop and drag feature. It’s quick, easy, and secure.

How secure? I did take my laptop with me when I volunteered a few weeks ago to finish up a task for the organization where I was volunteering. I signed on to the shared internet from that location. A few days later I decided it was time to update my Dropbox password. When I logged on to the site through the internet, I noticed a sign on to my account from a location I had never visited. I panicked, thinking someone had hacked my account. I updated the password and through an option on the site, blocking the unknown location from accessing my account again. What I hadn’t realized in my panic was that the organization I was at used their own cloud servers that happened to be in the location I wasn’t familiar with. Duh! My data had been safe all along; Dropbox was simply letting me know where the servers I had used were housed.

I highly recommend saving your genealogy documents to a cloud environment. Definitely back up periodically to a hard drive, as well! The more you save the more options you have to retrieve your hard work.

I will be taking a hiatus from blogging. We have some major life-changing news brewing that I’ll be writing about in the upcoming weeks. Until we reconnect, you can always reach me at genealogyatheart@gmail.com. Happy Hunting and hopefully, we’ll be back together soon.

You’ve Scanned – Now What? More Genealogy Organization Tips

Courtesy of Google

You’ve successfully scanned all of your genealogical research and are quite proud of yourself. Definitely pat yourself on the back because you’ve accomplished a task that is mundane (as you’d rather be researching), frustrating (when the hardware glitches) and at times, confusing (should I keep the paper or should I recycle it?!).

I hate to break it to you but you aren’t done. Here are the next steps to think about:

  1. Where have you stored the scans? If the answer is on your desktop or computer hard drive then you must think of a backup location. If your computer fails your work was all in vain and you’ll really be upset if you’ve thrown away the originals. I have saved it to a Cloud and to a stand-alone hard drive. I intend to copy the files to two other stand-alone hard drives and distribute them to my adult kids. Why? If the internet goes down and I can’t access the Cloud and my hard drive isn’t working, then I can “borrow” the secondary drive from one of my kids. If this sounds paranoid to you, think again. When a tornado, hurricane, or wildfire hits there often isn’t time to take everything important to you. You may be seeking shelter in a location with minimal internet. When the world is tumbling down I sometimes retreat to my genealogy. We aren’t the only ones living in troubled times, your ancestors did also. Having a backup to a backup is sensible and may lessen your stress level. The cost is minimal for peace of mind.
  2. When do you backup? I’m thinking December holidays and Mother’s Day the kids can bring their hard drives back and one of my “gifts” is that they’ll backup their devices to mine. Remember, you’re never finished! You’ll be adding files as you continue researching so you want all your backups to reflect your newly added finds.
  3. Wouldn’t it be easier to save to a stick? Sure, if you don’t have a huge amount that is a good solution. I have stick issues. Seriously. I was cozying up in my favorite armchair with my laptop and the cat jumped up on me. As I tried to adjust the laptop with the cat on it the stick hit the side of the chair and bent. I couldn’t retrieve anything. I took it to a computer repair place and was told they couldn’t get the data, either. I tried another place, nope. So, if you don’t have cats you may be okay with a stick but for me, I only use them when I travel to give a lecture. I also tend to lose small objects. If you don’t have those problems you’re fine with saving to a stick.
  4. Help, how do I find the info I scanned? The key here is how you named your file. There are many different organizational tips so you have to find what works best for you. Many people save by date. For example, it’s a marriage certificate from 1888. With this technique, the file name would be 1888.Marriage Certificate.Samuelson Family. This method allows you to save in a timeline fashion with little need for folders. Personally, this wouldn’t work for me as I have too much stuff! I’d be scrolling down to the year and then zeroing in on the item and then the person. When I’m researching I tend to think first of searching by the individual and unfortunately, we’ve got a zillion family members named George! I made a folder for each individual by last name dot first name middle name. That helps me differentiate my same-named folks. I also use Jr. or Sr. if it’s appropriate and added a birth year and death year in a few cases. All the scans for that particular person are saved in that folder. Example: Harbaugh.George Frederick.Marriage Cert. I don’t need the date because I have timelines for my people. If you use any genealogy software (RootMagic, Legacy, etc.) or an online program (Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com) you’ve got the timeline built-in. To find an item I just need to open the folder with the person’s name and scroll down. Cloud storage often has a search bar so I can type in “marriage” and the files in that folder that contain the name marriage will magically appear.
  5. What do I do with the info that I want to save that isn’t necessarily for one individual? I created a file folder of a few surnames, such as Leininger Family. This is where I keep scans of documents that I’m not sure belong to my line or not. I also included geographic and historic info I discovered about the place where the line resided. My Leiningers emigrated to Ohio and then moved on to Indiana. If I have an article about researching in Celina, Ohio, I would save it to the family surname folder. This is my catch-all for all those hints we discover but aren’t sure if they are meaningful or not. I also have files for lecture syllabuses saved by lecture title.presenter.organization. This way I have additional research ideas to consult readily without having to dig through a mound of paper.

Next week, I’ll discuss Cloud options.

Organizing Your Genealogy Documents

Courtesy of Amazon.com

You’ve heard of Marie Kondo and Swedish Death Cleaning. You probably have participated in Spring Cleaning. If you’re like me, you never gave much thought to cleaning and organizing your genealogical treasures.

I originally set up my genealogical documents in paper file folders, all of the same, manilla flavor by surname, and filed the paperwork in a bottom desk drawer. When I first began accumulating paperwork back in the 1980s I didn’t have many pieces of paper so the system worked if I needed a quick retrieval. Those were early computer days – no cell phone and no home internet.

Life has changed dramatically tech wise since then and spilled over to genealogy. You’d think computers would have made fewer papers but I have not found that to be the case. By the mid-1990s I joined America Online and began connecting with distant kin scattered around the world. The family began snail mailing me copies of their records so my manilla file system became stuffed. I moved to color-coded file folders with everyone with the same surname getting the same color folder individualized by the first name. I moved from housing the collection in a desk drawer to a small file cabinet.

The generation older than mine began to pass and younger family members deemed me the archivist so I began to assume more documents. I’ve blogged about receiving boxes left on my doorstep and photos mailed to me. I outgrew the file cabinet and was concerned about how I was historically preserving the items.

I invested in acid-free sleeves to house the growing hoard and in hindsight, should have monetarily invested in the companies that make archival products as I bought loads of them. I moved from file folders to binders that I placed upright on a shelf in my office closet.

As the internet took off so did my collections. I began printing interesting items I discovered with the intent that one day (ah-hem) I’d look into that rabbit hole more closely. I changed emails and decided to print much genealogical-related mail I had received from family members who had passed. All of this went into the binder system.

I continued to organize by surname and then alphabetically by the first name. Women stayed with their maiden name family. This led me to have to make duplicate marriage records to house with both surnames. Ditto for divorce decrees.

I’ve blogged a great deal this year about my ongoing scanning project; I decided in January it was time to clean a closet where I housed items I obtained from my deceased father. After I scanned each photo and a diary I carefully preserved it, boxed it up and placed it in an interior storage area in my home that is high, meaning secure from floods, temperature-controlled, and as dust-free as possible. We have a humidifier and pest control so the items are as safe as possible. Sure, fire and tornadoes could occur which was why I scanned the items before packing them away.

I’m talking here about three boxes of memorabilia and four photo boxes. When I pass, my kids can pitch it all if they like; I can’t bring myself to do that.

The housed items DO NOT INCLUDE the binders. Sigh. I decided to tackle that this week. I had thought most of the contents had been scanned over the years but upon opening the first binder, discovered that wasn’t the case. My heart sunk. So many binders – so little time!

I made the decision to go through each binder this week and scan the vitals (birth/baptism/Bible entry, marriage, death/obit) for everyone that I’ve accumulated. This allows me to see what I’m missing and need to obtain. So far, it doesn’t look like I’ve missed much. After scanning, these items will then be saved in the acid-free sleeves and returned to a binder. Note: 1 binder. I have a pile of other stuff to go through. Enter Swedish death cleaning and Marie Kondo. . .

My kids will not see any value in my email correspondence from 1999 with their dad’s second cousin who they met once. Her memories are important as she is long dead so I’ll scan and attach them to my personal tree. I’ll attach it to the individual she was memorializing and the scanned email serves as the citation. The paper can be recycled. My kids won’t have to dread going through any of this. I will be able to readily find anything anytime anywhere. Except if I can’t.

I’ve mentioned my projects to my friends and they think I’m nuts, though they haven’t said it verbally. I’ve gotten eye rolls, sideways glances, and one vocal doubter of the value of the project. The doubter has validity – what, she mused, is the point if the apocalypse comes? Yes, the world is a hot mess but I’m not preparing for an apocalypse. If only there were scanners available before the Library of Cairo was sacked! My purpose is for my kids to have an easier time going through my stuff after I die. I’m organizing again so I can find items quickly while I’m on my tech. This will be helpful when I venture out into the world again to do boots-on-the-ground research. I’m also at peace knowing that I have a backup to the item in case a disaster does hit my home. Plus, I’ve got lots more space in my closet!

As several dear readers noted earlier this year – make sure if you are scanning that you save to several locations. Mine is stored in Dropbox which I can access from anywhere and will be saved to three stand-alone hard drives. I will retain one and each of my kids will get one. That way, I’m lessening the chance of the information being lost.

I have very few heirlooms and am not quite ready to turn them over to the next generation yet. I’ve put a label on the bottom of two knickknacks, a lamp, and a carved wooden box that notes who the items originally belonged. I’d like those passed along to the next generation and pairing down to so few items makes that doable.

If you are a senior or you live in a disaster-prone area of the world, take the time now to preserve your years of research. Your effort will not be lost and your future family will much appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Tips for Archive Visits

istock.com

Like me, it’s probably been a while since you have visited archives for research purposes. Last week I mentioned I had returned to two local to me archives and I’d provide some tips this week.

You know that old saying, you never forget how to ride a bike. The same goes with researching in archives, however, there is a learning curve to get back to peak performance. I say that after deciding I would resume riding a bike during the pandemic and falling off in the street. I was fine, with a few minor scratches but a driver passing me was panic-stricken thinking he was the cause of my accident. Nope, my cell rang and I was trying to remove it from my pocket while maneuvering around a parked car with an oncoming car headed towards me. Not a brilliant decision!

Last week I found myself in the same euphoric feeling I had when taking my joy ride. It was so awesome to be going back to do boots-on-the-ground research. The anticipation colored reality.

I’m hoping my lessons learned or should I say, re-remembered, will help you when you start traveling again.

  1. Baby Steps First – I recommend you get those boots wet locally before embarking on a cross-country trip. You’ll be ready if you’ve practiced a bit closer to home first. Remember, if you miss something nearby you can always return but not so much if you’re far away.
  2. Pack Smartly – I always took a mid-sized plastic bag to contain my needed supplies so I took it out and thought I was ready to go. I use the see-through bag so archivists can tell I haven’t brought in any banned items – like pens. Pens are a no-no in archives! My bag contains a small magnifying glass, gloves, a small ruler, a few engineering pencils, a tiny notebook, a couple of quarters if I need a snack during a break, small stickees, and a thumb drive. Except, I didn’t check before I went and had removed the post its. I use them to tab pages that I want to copy or photograph. So, I had to take photos as I went through. Not a major issue but it changed my typical process. I also had taken out the thumb drive which I didn’t need at the first archive so I hadn’t realized it was missing until I showed up at the second and could have used it. There is a workaround – email yourself whatever you were going to save to the drive.
  3. Dress Professionally – We’ve been home for years now so we’ve become a tad, how should I put it, too comfortable. We’ve also aged and perhaps put on some pounds so make sure your outfit fits comfortably before the day you’re leaving. I usually wear long pants that are a step up from jeans but not super dressy. I pair it with a short-sleeved top or blouse and bring a business jacket or sweater. Archives are often kept cold to preserve the artifacts. Shivering is not conducive to researching! Side note: You might be mistaken for a staff member due to the way you are dressed; that happened to me twice one day. That validated my outfit was appropriate.
  4. Hydrate – water is usually not permitted so check ahead to see if you can store a bottle in a locker, with a snack if you have blood sugar issues. I didn’t think this would be a problem but my trip lasted longer than I anticipated. I’m still leery of using water fountains and the first archive didn’t have a vending machine.
  5. Call or email to verify what is on the archive’s website. As I mentioned last week, I missed clicking a button that would have taken me to schedule a visit. Since I was the only one there I was permitted to schedule on the spot but if that hadn’t been available, I would have wasted two hours as it was an hour each way from my home. This gets me to think about driving again. You may have just driven on local streets for the last few years and now you’re back on an interstate during rush hour. Taking it slow isn’t an option as people will be changing lanes around you. I witnessed some road rage, thankfully not directed at me. People have become more impatient or perhaps, we just forgot what commuting was like. Just be careful.

Enjoy your archive visit!

Asking the Right Genealogical Questions

Courtesy of skiprichard.com

“Ask and you shall receive and your joy shall be complete” (Matthew 7:7) was a Bible quote my mom used often. As a child, I sometimes had a difficult time speaking up to those to that I wasn’t close. When I would come home and complain about an injustice that had occurred at school mom would suggest I communicate what I needed. I would return the next day with a practiced speech; I can’t say speaking up always rectified the situation but it was a valuable life skill to practice.

Side note: When speaking up didn’t work and I’d come home and complain to mom her next response was always, “When you have as much education as your teachers then we’ll listen to you.” In other words, suck it up and move on.

Asking for the right information is critical in genealogy. Years ago, I interviewed my maternal grandmother about her early life. I asked where the family lived when they first moved to Gary, Indiana. She replied, “On the corner of Adams and Ridge Road; we rented the top floor.” It didn’t dawn on me that I should have drilled down further. There are four corners, which corner? What was the address? Rented from who? How long did you live there?

Unfortunately, my family lived in that location between the census years. There are City Directories, however, none mention them, likely because they were renting. Because I didn’t ask the right question I will probably never know the answer.

My husband’s maternal great-grandfather’s obituary states he was a “long-time teacher and principal.” What was the name of the school? Where was it located? What subject did he teach? What grade level did he teach? What years did he teach? When did he become a principal?

I have pieced together some of his work life through the usual means – censuses, City Directories, county school records, and his maternal aunt’s diary, however, there are large gaps. For a time, he worked in a private school that has long since closed. Again, I’ll likely never get a complete picture.

I decided to Spring Clean a document storage bin yesterday and found in a folder with my husband’s name on it that he had submitted several employee suggestions to US Steel in the 1970s. One contained a way to filter the air to reduce pollutants. We’ve been together nearly 50 years and were together when he submitted his idea but I had no idea he had done that. Attached to the idea was the company’s response which I’m sure you won’t be surprised about – they didn’t think it was needed.

Keep these lessons in mind when you embark on interviewing your family members. Better still, make sure you’ve recorded your life events for your descendants. Rummage through your saved documents to jog your memory of events or perhaps, like me, discover new information you already had. Seeing your family this Easter – Passover – Ramadan – is a great time to ask the right questions.

New Genealogy Tips and Tricks

Courtesy of en.Wikipedia.org. Thinking of you, Ukraine!

I’ve been Spring Cleaning so I’m a tad late on posting today. I’m really supposed to be in a local genealogy society’s Zoom meeting but they are having tech issues so I decided to blog while I wait to be let in.

I’m excited to write that I have FINALLY finished scanning my older genealogy collection from my family. I had so much dust, bits of dried brown paper, even glitter from old greeting cards around that I spent the last week plus majorly cleaning. Amazing how those documents permeated nooks and crannies throughout my home!

After I get the outside pressure washed, my favorite job, I decided to scan additional documents, such as medical records, too. I’d like to go as paperless as possible going forward.

Here is some new genealogy news you might find interesting:

ROOTSTECH may be over but if you attended, you should be getting an email notification of your “cousins” that also logged on for the conference. Follow the link (which expires on March 25th) and then click “Roots Tech Relatives.” My relative number is 8,944 – those would be the people who also have a FamilySearch.org tree that matches the people I have in my tree. A map appears and you can click to see folks from your area and be able to contact them if you like. Another alternative is to scroll down the page and click in the Surname box – adding a surname you are interested in connecting with. The default is your current surname and if it’s like mine, Samuelson, is not going to find you much. There are loads of Samuelsons that aren’t related to us because of Swedish naming patterns. I plugged in my top 3 family surnames – Koss, Leininger, and Landfair and discovered that there were 5 Leiningers in attendance but no one with the other two names.

Have New York City families? Then you’ll love the fact that the vital records are 70% digitized and available for FREE. Check out the link. A list of all available records can be found here.

MyHeritage.com continues to improve its site. If you love timelines, you’ll enjoy their new color-coded ones with graphics. This blog article will explain it.

I’m not sure how I feel about their new Live Story which is a tool for you to make animated videos of your ancestors telling their stories. Personally, it’s a little too creepy for me but if you are into AI and liked Deep Nostalgia, this is definitely for you. Try it out here.

On the more traditional genealogy path, MyHeritage.com has increased its French records by adding Filae’s family trees. That 269 million! Read about it here and there is a link in the article to start researching the records.

Sigh, so many records, so little time. Have a wonderful week searching!