Photo Hints You Might Find Hiding in Your Home

I just read an article that I think you might find interesting – Lost Rolls America  is about those rolls of film you have hanging around the house that you never take to get developed. 

A few years ago I had developed all of the rolls and disposable cameras (remember those?!) that were in my home.  Most of the photos were field trips my children went on and the pictures weren’t all that exciting.  My family still laughs, though, at the weird occurrence that happened when I took the films in to be developed. 

I was next in line at the camera counter at my neighborhood Walgreens when a woman came in and sighed loudly behind me.  Turning, I saw she was clearly in a hurry.  I smiled and said something about the line was moving quickly.  She said she was late and hoped it did.  Then she saw all the film and disposable cameras I had in a gallon size baggie.  I told her she could go ahead of me.

Just at that moment the customer who was being waited on finished.  The hurried woman needed to buy batteries but the kind she needed they didn’t have.  She said something like, “That’s just great, now what am I gonna do?”  I suggested she run to the Battery Store a few miles away as they seem to have every kind imaginable.  I added, “Just be careful driving;” as she did seem to be in such a hurry.  She said “Thanks,” walked away and as I started dumping the contents of the baggie on the counter she came back.  “Excuse me,” she said.  Both the clerk and I looked up.  “I know this will sound strange, but you have a lot of dead people following you.”  The clerk looked at her like she was out of her mind.  I just laughed and said, “I’m sure I do.  I’m a genealogist and it’s probably family.”  Turns out she was a fortune teller.  She gave me her card and told me she’d give me a free reading for my kindness.  I never took her up on it. 

Maybe I should have; those dead people following me sure didn’t answer my genealogical questions!  Perhaps you’ll get lucky and those rolls of film will help you answer yours.  Happy Hunting!

Genealogy Cleaning Hints

Since returning home from vacation, I have been on a genealogy cleaning spree.  Although I hadn’t planned for this, I discovered a few days before I left that I really had to make it my priority when I returned.  While packing, I was frantically looking for items in the closet when I got hit in the head by falling journals. Ouch!  If that wasn’t a wake up call I don’t what would be.

Cleaning is not fun but the results are wonderful!  I have also been fortunate that the heat index has been in the extreme and when the temperature drops, it’s pouring.  With both of those curtailing my outside activities, I hit the office closet first for a redo.  Because I live in an area prone to hurricanes, I keep records in either plastic tubs that I can quickly transport to the car when we evacuate, or in binders high up on a shelf.  The binders contain vitals by surname and though they would be a loss, the original exists safely elsewhere with a scanned copy I placed online, on my computer and backed up on a portable device. I’ve tried various organizational methods but found this one works best for me.

Recently, I switched my journal and magazine preferences to online only; no point in killing trees when I can access and read the articles anywhere.  I decided to donate my saved hard copies to my library.  That helped clear the shelf and gave me more space to acquire more vitals!  (Family eye rolls here). 

I also keep office supplies in this closet so it was a great time to take an inventory.  I made a list of items I’m getting low on, such as labels, that I can acquire at sale prices hits.

Once the closet was done, I tackled a file cabinet I use for business projects.  I updated my portfolio of work samples to include recent projects and replenished forms.  I don’t keep many copies of forms but I like to have a few available in case the printer is down or electricity out.  (In my area, the electricity goes out frequently – 3 times in the last 5 days due to severe electrical storms.)

I then tackled the electronics which was the least favorite part and took the longest of this process.  I started with thumb drives.  I have a lot of them and I decided I really needed to go through and make sure that I had saved to the appropriate place.  After checking that I had, I deleted the files from the thumb drive so I have a clean one to use on my next research trip. 

Actually, looking through the drives was a wonderful walk down memory lane.  I discovered several drives that held a probate record from colonial New Jersey that is the only record that shows two generations of Duers connected.  The reason I had the document on different drives was because of unusual events at the time I discovered the document’s existence.  I had been researching at a local library a different ancestor when I struck up a conversation with another researcher who was working on DAR lineage paperwork.  I mentioned my desire to prove the Duers and she brought up the document – she had remembered the name as she was working on a different New Jersey family from the same area.  It was the first time I had known of this document’s existence and I copied her copy to a thumb drive but she did not have the complete document.  I then began my search for the original which wasn’t on FamilySearch.org but was available at LDS sites.  Of course, the nearest LDS Family History Center to where I was would close in a few minutes so there was no way I would get there in time.  The next day, I grabbed a different thumb drive and drove to the site, found the record and thought I had saved it all but when I returned home discovered one page was missing and oddly, it was the page she had missed.  That meant I had to return and save again.  A few days later I was back and again resaved.  I was so paranoid I brought the page up twice from the thumb drive before I left to make sure it was saved correctly. Even though it appeared at the LDS library, it disappeared by the time I got home.  This happened before clouds so thumb drives were the best option for saving. Hubby suggested that maybe something was wrong with the thumb drive so I grabbed two others and we headed out, in a violent thunderstorm, to another LDS site much further from our home as that was the only one open.  The volunteer said he was about to close as he didn’t think anyone would have ventured out in the inclement weather.  I again located the document and this time, saved it to two different drives.  For whatever reason, it saved correctly and I was able to open it when I returned home.  Now on this cleaning spree, I deleted them off four different drives.

Next, I cleaned my download file on my computers, then cleaned the desktop.  Next, I went on my three clouds and placed documents I had saved over the past year into folders.  I then logged on to various organization to which I belong and downloaded and saved syllabuses for workshops that interested me but I hadn’t had time to attend.  I plan to review them and watch the saved webinars if I needed more information.

This was followed by cleaning up my email account.  I sent some follow up emails regarding projects that I haven’t gotten responses from in the past month and put mail I was done with in the appropriate folder.

I was feeling quite proud of myself so I went on to perform updates, which I hate doing because I’m inpatient of the time spent and the possible problems that result; for some reason, updates to our printer sometimes freezes the computer.  While doing the updates, I realized I had neglected updating several of my tree software programs as new versions were available.  All was well until I remembered that Roots Magic was linked to Ancestry and I hadn’t bothered to update changes I made to Ancestry in the past year.  I almost had a heart attack when I clicked “Only show changed people” on Roots Magic.  On a positive note, I was able to see how much progress I’ve made in my family tree but on a negative note, my goodness did I have a lot of work ahead of me to get the files saved to my personal computer.  I seriously considered just redownloading my entire Ancestry tree but I knew with all the media I had, it would take at least a week as it had the first time I did it.  I worried that the program would crash, especially with the electrical outages so I opted to painstakingly go through every individual and update.  The majority of my cleaning time was completing this project. but I think it was worth it as I’d be crushed if something happened to my online tree at Ancestry.  Having a backup, with all the media, is vitally important to me.  Having it saved in numerous places is also worth the effort.

I am happy to report that I am ready to return to researching, my true love.  I can’t wait!

Here Today Gone Tomorrow, The Ever Changing Access to Online Records

Ahh, the balance of the universe!  Maybe it’s just me but I’ve noticed lately that the more that the web grows genealogy sources, the more sources I relied on in the past have disappeared.  I’m definitely not a doomsday prophet but I found my experiences yesterday as a wake up call to change some of my practices in the future. If I don’t I’ll be facing disaster someday. Here’s what happened…

I was going back over a line I hadn’t visited in five years.  When I do that, I start with my gateway ancestor, in this case, Mary Ann Hollingshead, and I recheck my saved sources.  I predominately use Ancestry.com so I click on the Gallery feature and look at the documents I previously uploaded.  Then I go to the hints area and look at all that I had saved as “Maybe” or “No.”  I always keep the hint setting on but my tree is so large I don’t have time or desire to check every hint that populates. Weekly, as part of my genealogy cleaning chores, I go through any hints that are shown over the previous seven days and just dismiss them.  They don’t really go away; they are saved under the individual that the system matched them to.  That’s a nice underused feature, I believe, as you can always go through them at your leisure to examine each one closely when you have the time.  

Next, I go back to Facts and check the citations that I had linked to the timeline.  For sources that I created from outside of Ancestry.com records, I always but the link so that I can easily review the information and note if anything has changed.  That’s where I noticed the first of the serious changes to the web.

I went to Francis Hollingshead and was checking the link I had made to FamilySearch.org for England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975.  I used to be able to see the actual page of the document but not any longer:

As you can see on the right side above, I must go to the Family History Center to view.  Now I wish I had saved every FamilySearch.org document I have ever found and that’s a lot!  It never dawned on me that the information would not be readily available from home.  All I could think of was Job 1:20 “…The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away…”.

I did notice that some of the documents were available through FindMyPast.com so I could (and will) go there to snip and save them to my Gallery but not all can be found that way, as the one above shows.  

As I went farther back on the Hollingshead line I discovered that British History Online now charges for many documents that once were available for free:

Back in the day, they asked for support through a donation but now they have Premium, Gold, 5-year Gold and 10-year Gold access.  What I was trying to reach was Gold level.  I only needed one document so it wasn’t worth it to me to purchase a subscription.  I had saved in my citation a transcript which is fine for my purposes but if I had known it would go away, I would have snipped and saved the original and transcribed under it.  Live and Learn!

Yes, I did try the Wayback Machine to see if I could gain access to these docs and the answer is unfortunately, no.  For the British History Online document, only once was it saved and that was in 2015 but you had to log in to access.  I tried my old log on but it no longer works.  

The next issue I discovered was of a document I had saved in my Gallery.  I had the page snipped but I had neglected to include the book’s title page.  No worries, I thought, as the link was for Internet Archives.  Of course, I happened to hit them just as they went down for maintenance so I couldn’t get the information I needed.  The book wasn’t available through any of the other online sources so this just required me to wait awhile to get what I needed.

It’s not just older documents that are no long accessible.  Google+, which ties to my Blogger account, is disappearing soon.  With it goes all of my former reader comments.  I’m glad that I save all of my posts to my genealogyatheart.com website so they will still be available but unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do about the comments.

Genealogy is definitely a practice in patience.  Sometimes it’s years before you find the record you seek or connect with a long lost relative that holds the key to discovering a generation back.  With organizational changes, patience needs to extend to how we save the documents we find at the time we make the discovery.  I’m fortunate that there were only a few records I wasn’t able to access in the 18 generations I checked.  I’m hopeful, going forward with the procedure changes I plan to implement in my practice, that won’t be an issue again.

UPDATE 23 Feb 2019:  I spoke today with a FamilySearch rep at a local genealogist conference I attended.  He stated that some of the records are no longer available from home due to copyright agreements with the holders of the original data.  He also stated, if you have found yourself having difficulty viewing some of the records online because they become fuzzy, simply record where you are then click out of the database and go back in.  When you restart go directly to the record you left off and it should be viewed clearly.  If not, you can report it.

Add Death Cleaning to Your Genealogical Toolbox


I’m sure my faithful readers are wondering why my posts have been scant lately. The summer has just been a whirlwind! Travel, family stuff and work have kept me away from this blog. I’m happy to report that the past month I’ve been doing my own version of Swedish death cleaning.

If you aren’t sure you know what that is, check out this older NBC article. I’m not planning on dying any time soon but the opportunity presented itself (pre death as an opportunity, hmmm) for me to unload many family treasures that have been held on to for generations and pass them along to a younger family member that is interested in them. Hoorray!

It’s a mixed blessing seeing these items go. Holding the old recipes cards of long deceased female family members in my hand always stirred in me that connection of past to present as I prepared a much loved family dish. I’ll miss that but I’m happy to know that not only the past and present are at play with this decision to pass them along, the future is also impacted and that’s awesome from a genealogist’s point of view!

I just began this process so I’ll be engaged in it for a few more weeks. This pace is perfect for me and my genealogy. I’ll be reanalyzing some of my documents as these cherished objects are looked at one more time. For example, we have some old Bibles in German from the 1800’s. Using the copyright date helps be determine the extent of German language usage by the family member who owned it. I know who owned it because of the name recorded on the front page. No, there is no record in the Bible of births/deaths/marriages so this won’t help me with family connections. Why the German language connection is important at a particular time period is because it will help me perhaps discover additional information in a local German newspaper that normally wouldn’t come up through a Chronicling America search. I can also explore churches in the area that had a service in German since I’ve been unable to find church records for that person. Thinking outside the box with a find can help you discover a wealth of valuable information and insights into an ancestor.

Some items I just can’t part with yet so I’ve placed a label on the bottom of the item with who it originally belonged to so when I really am dead, my family doesn’t have to guess as to what items are historical and what isn’t. Maybe I’ll part with those before my death but just in case, they are identifiable.

So as you enjoy your last beach weekend or cookout of the summer, I’ll be happily going through my treasures and creating a new treasure chest for a loved one. Kind of like being a nice pirate!

Awesome Genealogy Resources I’ve Recently Discovered


Brrr, it’s been freezing in Florida! I’m spending most of my free time curled up on the sofa in front of a fire with a cup of cocoa and my laptop and Kindle catching up on reading I put off during the holidays. I want to share some of my amazing finds that could benefit your research:

Do You Understand Family Relationships? Trying to explain to a non-genealogist how someone is related can be difficult. I’ve discovered a wonderful pdf and a fantastic article recently published by Genealogy in Time. Check out The Key to Understanding Family Relationships and become an expert!

Burned courthouses, wars and vermin aren’t, unfortunately, a thing of the past that impedes our needed record research. What Would You Take?, an article on Genealogy Bank, focuses on the sometimes split second decision of what to do about your research when disaster is only minutes away. We don’t like to think about it, but this article is a must read for everyone.

So, your DNA results are being returned and your family is scratching their heads in confusion. Maybe this article will help – How DNA Testing Botched My Family’s Heritage that I found on Gizmodo is thought provoking.

Genealogy TV Show That Can Benefit Your Family

I’ve been watching this season’s Our American Family show and thought the style of the presentation would be an awesome way for families to record their own history. With the holidays upon us, check out a few of the episodes, then video your family at the next gathering. I’ve blogged previously about using helpful media to use and interview questions that can help get grandma talking. Once you’ve got the recording, putting it together could be a wonderful present for your next year’s holiday season!

What Would You Do?


Happy Labor Day Weekend and the last long weekend of summer. It’s my 40th wedding anniversary, too. On a not so happy note, it’s our 32nd anniversary of losing everything in Hurricane Elena. We spent that wedding anniversary camping out at North East High in St. Petersburg, Florida with our oldest child and my mom. Like Hurricane Harvey, the mega rain maker, Elena decided to park herself offshore where she rotated away for several days. It was the rain that did the most damage.

That life experience made me relate to a recent Washington Post article that asked victims of Harvey what they took with them when they evacuated. One woman had time to grab her lipstick, another, just his medicine. For people who have been fortunate enough to not have to evacuate quickly from a life threatening situation those answers might seem ridiculous. I can assure you they aren’t.

I overheard someone in the checkout line yesterday decline to donate for hurricane relief because he said the people should have taken precautions. I interjected that the initial recommendation had been to stay put and not evacuate. He considered that and then replied that they should have put together items they needed when they realized the severity of the situation. Clearly, this man never lived through a disaster.

In our case, we had sold our first home the Sunday before the storm. With the pending contract, we spent the following days looking for a new one which we found late Friday afternoon. We placed a contract on it and went out to dinner to celebrate. We had heard weather reports of a disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico but like so many others in late summer, the fickleness of the tract didn’t cause us to worry. We had lived in our home for 7 years and experienced minor street flooding but nothing more serious than that. We went to bed early, skipping the late weather report.

Close to midnight, we were awakened by the sound of a fire truck siren and a loudspeaker announcing, “Prepare to evacuate immediately.” This was pre-cell phone days and reverse home phone emergency contacts. Following the fire truck was a police car. We were told he needed the names of our next of kin in case we chose not to leave. We made the instant decision to go.

So what do you take? We grabbed a suit case and threw underwear, socks and a few changes of clothes. We didn’t even think about a toothbrush. I put a few books and toys in a grocery bag for our daughter. She went into the car seat first and was followed by the cat in a pillowcase which I held on my lap and our lab, who was the only one who was happy about a late night car ride. We drove to my mom’s and discovered she was also being evacuated so she crammed into the car and we headed to the high school. Mom had thought to pack snacks.

Did I take any insurance papers, family heirlooms, or cash? Nope. I had my driver’s license in my wallet with a couple of bucks. The car wasn’t even filled with gas and it didn’t occur to us that electricity was needed to operate gasoline pumps. Duh! When confronted with an emergency, fight or flight kicks in. All the long term planning in the world gets down to what can you take in an instant. If you’ve never experienced that I hope you never do.

We returned to our destroyed home 5 days later. The flood waters had receded leaving tell tale water lines on the walls, particle board furniture that had collapsed, broken windows from wind damage with curtains blowing outside, and soggy smelly carpet. Nothing is spared. Think of your kitchen and bathroom cabinets sitting in 3 feet of water for a day. Now imagine it for even longer. My husband’s grandmother’s wicker doll carriage was destroyed, along with my paternal great grandmother’s china sugar bowl that had fallen to the floor when the hutch collapsed. It’s not pretty.

Thankfully, the camera was high up on a shelf in the closet so we could take pictures for FEMA of the damage. Our important paperwork was also spared as it had been kept in the top drawer of a file cabinet in our home office. Pure dumb luck! We weren’t so lucky with the home sale, though. The buyer of our home cancelled the sale. FEMA lost our paperwork which included the pictures and we had to resubmit (hooray for negatives). We had no electricity for 2 weeks so my daughter and I stayed at my mom’s while my husband guarded the home with the dog as looters were coming out as bad as the critters. Disasters sure bring out the worse in humanity.

I swore I’d be better prepared next time. Technology has definitely helped as I’ve scanned every photo and document in case it doesn’t make it through the next time. Those items are saved in a cloud, on CDs that I’ve given to several individuals and on one that is in my plastic tub where I store important paperwork. If there’s time, I can take the plastic tote and if not, hopefully, the contents will be safe until I return. I haven’t been able to find a fireproof device but that would be best option.

Now that I think about it, it’s almost miraculous that any object survives to be past down for more than a generation or two! That thought makes me treasure what I’ve received and marvel at the historical events that have item has survived. If only they could talk!

Saving Family Heirlooms

I read a wonderful guest post on MyHeritage that you must read – Do Genealogists Care About Family Artifacts? Of course, the answer is yes, however, life often gets in the way of the “saving.”

My town has a wonderful antique district and I’ve been on the hunt for a demilune since May. Hubby and I have many much loved furniture that once belonged to families other than our own. I’m lucky to have purchased my guest bedroom furniture from an elderly woman who couldn’t take it to the nursing home with her. I promised her I’d care for it when I bought it in 1985 after we lost everything in Hurricane Elena and I’ve kept my word. I blogged last spring about the china cabinet I purchased from Craig’s List. A blended family didn’t have room for two. I know the piece’s history and its travels across the country with a military family. They know they can visit it if they like (it was hard for them to sell it but it was degrading in the unairconditioned 100 year plus garage where they were storing it.)

Some furniture I don’t know its history but would love to. When we first married, I wanted a rocking chair and found one in the classified ads of our then local newspaper. It was smaller than I had envisioned but the price was right – $10.00. It was also hideous – someone had recovered it in green and white gingham with lace glued around the edges. I stripped off the covering and discovered it had been covered several times. Two layers down was horsehair stuffing. After quickly taking that outside I discovered that it was originally caned. I had the piece examined and it’s considered a sewing rocker from the 1840’s. I couldn’t find anyone who caned so I bought a how to book from a craft store and ordered caning material. I can’t say I did a great job but it’s held up for 39 years.

My most favorite piece, though, I rescued from the basement of a house my grandmother rented out when I was 4 years old. I guess my interest in history and saving artifacts started quite young! I can’t explain why I was drawn to it. An old oak chest, it’s top cracked and stained and a piece missing on the back to give it support, it was forlorn sitting abandoned in a dark corner. The drawer and two front doors on the front were hand carved. Someone had painted the inside brown. When the renters skipped we discovered it left behind. Inside was a chemistry book according to my mom as I couldn’t read. I pitched a fit that the chest be brought home. I’m talking a full blown temper tantrum that I still remember to this day. My mom and grandmom were not going to give in to my behavior but I was adamant I wasn’t leaving unless the chest went, too. My grandmother drove a Chevy Nova and it certainly wasn’t going to fit in there. My wonderful grandpa tied it on the roof and my grandparents kept it in their basement. I had told them I would keep my toys in it when I visited their house but they were soon to move to another. They moved that chest to the new house and then a year later, back to their old home. By then, my parents had separated and I truly did use the chest to store my games as I went to live with my grandparents. In the late 1960’s my mom got a brilliant idea to spray paint the chest gold and put it in our bathroom. When my mom and I relocated to Florida in the 1970’s my husband’s family, my then future in-laws, kept it in their basement. After we married and bought a house, we brought it “home.” My husband stripped off the gold and left it unfinished. I’ve moved it three time since and it still contains board games. I’m thinking of finally getting it professional refinished.

My solution to the situation noted in the blog I recommend you read is to put stickers on the bottom of pieces that are of family history so when my time comes, the emotional distress of my surviving family members won’t cloud the stories of where the object came from. That way, family pieces can remain in the family for the next generation. Times a wastin’ – make a note of what’s important to you this week!

Preserving Your Genealogy

At the recent National Genealogical Society conference, there was a lot of chatter about preserving your genealogical records after you’re gone. I have to disagree with those that say if you don’t cite your work it will be tossed. I don’t know about you, but my family could care less where I find what I find. Unless the finder has been bitten by the genealogy bug, no one will understand the importance of citing and analyzing sources.

That said, I’m definitely in favor of following the standards. I think you should do the right thing but that is not going to save your years of effort from other destruction by surviving family members. I firmly believe there is only 3 ways to make sure that your research is preserved but you must plan ahead:

Donate your work locally and/or electronically so that future folks you don’t even know can benefit. These are the people who will not value your work if you didn’t follow the standards soundly.
Publish now and get your work in as many hands as possible. It’s quite simple to publish an eBook or you can print from whatever word processing program you use and have copies made at one of the big box office supply stores. Just type “how to publish an eBook” in amazon.com’s search engine and many free books are available to get you started. The holidays are around the corner and who knows?! A recipient might just get interested.
Getting a family member hooked is not as difficult as it sounds. The idea here is to match the living person’s passion to an ancestor. My kids could care less about their Great Grandma Elsie’s china. I understand that; we’ve used it for years as they’ve grown so it’s not so special. Will it be preserved? Most definitely, but it’s just not that exciting to them. On the other hand, they’re into medicine and research so learning about the life of that great uncle doctor in the 1800’s and a 5th great grandfather who was a chemist really gets them listening. The old tool box is a draw for our son while the old thread is a tie for my daughter to her 2 x’s great grandmother. An attachment develops when you can relate so find the connection and you’re work is safe!

Lighting A Fire

A former client informed me today that she thought about me all night long.  I could be flattered by that but the reason why was unsettling.  It’s summer in Florida and during this time we experience torrential storms.  Last evening was over the top with lightning and thunder and subsequently, one of my client’s neighbors home was hit and caught fire.  Thankfully, the fire department was able to extinguish the flames but the home sustained much damage.

Why my client thought of me at that time was due to my insistence a few months ago that her family documents be scanned and saved in several places.  She never got around to it.  Typical excuses – work, family, vacation, and it’s not fun to scan.  I’m not saying that those excuses aren’t valid but last evening she realized how quickly everything can be instantly destroyed.

First thing this morning she contacted me asking for help in cataloguing and scanning her documents and photos.

Please, readers, no more excuses!  Make the time now to save these valuable heirlooms today.