More Genealogy Tips Based on Renovation Musings

Closeup image of notepad with pen.

If you’ve been following my Genealogy At Heart blog, you know that hubby and I have been in the “middle” of major home remodeling which we began the day after Thanksgiving. When I say middle I really mean it – we’re half way done. Through this chaotic journey I’ve been able to apply quite a few lessons learned from the experience to genealogy which I wrote about a few weeks ago.

On Palm Sunday, our adult kids planned to come over and we were going to take a much needed respite from the renovations to attend a local art show. To plan that in, we worked hard the previous day as we hoped that the hardwood floors would FINALLY be installed in the upcoming week. For that to happen, we needed to finish prepping; we had some minor holes to fill in the concrete and to tile the entry stoop.

I’m a list person – I love to organize via writing and then cross out items when the task is complete. I’ve used technology but for this major project, reverted back to a paper and pencil method. It’s quite motivating to cross out the completed items! I do this with my genealogy, too. Using Excel, I have a spreadsheet that lists the Who (surname), What (I’m going to accomplish – research, transcribe, analyse, etc.) When (the date I place it on my list), Why (the goal, either short or long term) and How (I brainstorm where I’m going to find the info or what I need to complete the task). Some items have been on my list for a long time and others I can quickly accomplish.

Like genealogy, home maintenance doesn’t end. I don’t put “clean up my work space” on my genealogy to do list just like I wouldn’t place “mow the lawn” on my home renovation list.

Some items on my genealogy list may be much more difficult to accomplish than others. I’ve been trying to locate the parents of my second great grandmother, Mary “Polly” Dennis for years and don’t expect resolution tomorrow but who knows?! Records show up in the most unexpected places. Likewise, the hunt for a new door threshold (seriously – cannot find one anywhere that fits our front door!) has got to have a resolution quickly or my power bill will be astronomical. Although there are other important tasks to work on, finding that threshold has to take precedence. Which leads me to flexibility…

I’m not holding my breath that my floors will be installed this week. When I called to verify that the floors were in, I was told the order was partially filled. It’s been nearly a month since we ordered and the company cannot explain why the entire order isn’t ready. I wasn’t thrilled or surprised. Like in genealogy, expect the unexpected. If the company cannot provide the missing items we’re going to have to look elsewhere. Sure, it will take longer to finish but in the end, I sure will rejoice just like I do when I’ve found an elusive ancestor.

Because I’m paying as I go with the house renovation, my initial list only took us to the hardwood floor install. I knew I had the funds to get to that point AND the house would be livable again. So late Saturday after dinner, hubby and I went back to the list and I let him do the honors of crossing out all of his specifically assigned tasks that he accomplished that day. All that was left for him was to grout the newly installed entry tiles. It was time to make a new list for phase 2. Although I’m looking forward to the day my home renovations are through, my genealogy to do list will never end and that’s just fine with me!

Musing About Life Lessons Learned That Apply to Genealogy


It’s been a slow week genealogywise for me as I’ve been consumed with the house renovations and an increased workload at my educator job. I thought I’d have difficulty coming up with a blog but instead I’m bursting with lessons learned from those situations that apply to genealogy.

With renovations, there is a lot of moving of “stuff” around as we empty one area of the house with the goal of making it an improved place. It’s a total pain to have to physically move items. I also realized I have a lot of things that I no longer use so I’m donating or pitching as I go (or pawning off on my children). This got me thinking about genealogy practices…

I used to have alot of stuff I took with me when I researched; I carried my clunky laptop, notebook, charts, lots of pencils, a camera, phone, stickees, and thumbdrives. It was a workout just getting into an archive. I’ve streamlined considerably and find I can simply take my Kindle, phone, a mechanical pencil and stickees. Instead of many thumbdrives that contained my surname info and individual thumbdrives for my clients, I now just take one for microfilms in case I can’t email it to myself and use the ap on my phone, Office Lens, to take a picture and immediately send it to One Note, for everything else I used to save to a thumbdrive. I can view that from my phone and Kindle to make sure it looked the way I want before I leave so I never get home and realize I needed to get a better view. Also on the Kindle is Evernote, which has my research log template. I still carry the stickees to flag book pages I’m interested in. These changes have made my research life much saner and safer. I don’t have to worry about someone walking off with the laptop if I have to go back to the stacks for another look. I have more flexibility in where I park myself down to research and I lost weight without having to diet. Very cool! Have no idea why it took me so long to figure out I needed to do this room by room in my house.

After a room is finished I find that I might be better off moving items around for increased efficiency. For example, my drinking glasses used to be in a cabinet closest to the sink. I realized it’s a better idea to move them in the cabinet next to the refrigerator as that’s where we go to get cold, purified water, ice and lemon. This practice definitely applies to genealogy. Just because you used to do something doesn’t mean you should continue to do so. Back in the day, I organized my genealogy files by lines. As the data grew I found that it was too complex so I took the time to reorganize by surname. A binder system works well for me today but may not in the future and that’s ok! Change is good although I must admit, as a creature of habit, I do tend to go back to the old cabinet to seek out a glass when I’m exhausted. Habits may be difficult to break but can be done. Investing time to make a task better is time well spent. You may be in for a happy surprise, which gets me to my next lesson learned.

Ironically, last Wednesday I blogged about my recent Dropbox experience. At my educator job, a decision was made right after I wrote the article that our team was going to only use One Note. I spent all day Thursday and part of Friday dropping and dragging files from Dropbox to One Note. Although I wasn’t thrilled to have to readjust my work priorities during a busy time, the situation did give me a big Ahaa! In Dropbox, I saved by event but in One Note, the decision was to save by date. Same situation as moving my drinking glasses and reorganizing my genealogy files! The data is the same but where and how it’s stored is different. So here’s where I learned another lesson – looking at the older files was quite enlightening. I was able to identify some holes in our program which we’ll be discussing this week. Try this with your brickwalls. If your found records are in timeline order, shuffle them up and place them by type of record or location where they were made. You might identify where your gap is and be off and running to locate overlooked events or places where they occurred. It sure is the same stuff but my looking through a different lens you might make a new discovery.

In other words, you’ve got to change your practices up to move forward, even if it’s painful. Happy Hunting!

Genealogy Resolutions


There’s no better time than the start of a brand new year to fine tune genealogy habits. Need some ideas? How about:
Spring Clean Now! That’s right, in the dead of winter. Sort your loose papers into 3 piles. Pile 1 is for whatever you view as most interesting to pursue. Pile 2 is interested but can’t do right now, such as searching records at a repository outside of your area. Pile 3 is your trash pile. Put that immediately in File 13 (your trash bin) or your fireplace.
Calendars Count – It doesn’t matter if it’s the one your dry cleaners gave you, a special holiday gift received or electronic. What does matter is that you block time out now for family reunions, research, trips and conferences.
Resolve to Rule Your Routines – We all have some bad genealogical habits. I do a great job of making a plan when researching for clients but not so good when I’m working on my own tree. I plan on improving in that area this year.
Lighten Up – Nope, this has nothing to do with diet or cleaning. Instead, I mean don’t be so hard on yourself. Genealogy is your passion so don’t make it an unpleasant job. Sure it’s frustrating not being able to find the relationship you’re seeking. Yes, it’s sad that your ancestors made some really stinky choices. Remember you can only control what you own so let the negative feelings go.
Feeling Fine – There are lots of reasons to pursue genealogy. Some folks love the family stories they uncover while others like to solve puzzles and mysteries. I want to better understand history by relating it to events in which my ancestors were involved. You may want to discover how far back you can go or to record your family via photos. Whatever your reason, it’s much more fun when you share your findings. Explore ways to spread that joy this year. Facebook, Pinterest and FamilySearch.org are free. You may want to build a website for your own family or write an eBook to save on publishing costs. Attend a meeting of your local genealogy society to find other kindred spirits especially if your family is less than enthusiastic about your finds. Know that whatever your reason to pursue genealogy or way you select to present your findings is the right way – there’s certainly not many fields that are like that. Wishing you a year of enjoyable discoveries!

Hints to Get Your Needed Records During the Upcoming Year


I’m not sure what it is about holidays – maybe it’s the food, knowing time away from work is coming or the spirit of the season but I’ve learned that when I have a needed record to obtain those are the best times for me to secure it.

The good news is there are holidays all year long and you can use that to your advantage! Here’s what has happened to me and maybe this “Month of the Year Research Calendar” will work for you, too:

January – Last year I was writing a Kinship Determination Paper for by Board for Certification of Genealogists portfolio on the Harbaugh family and I needed clarification about their religious beliefs. Most of the first generation was buried in a Lutheran Cemetery in Indiana but the second generation was buried in a Brethren Cemetery. I was trying to understand when the change occurred so I called several churches in the area during the Christmas season seeking parishioner records from the 1880’s. The timing was wrong – churches are extremely busy then. I followed up via email in January and reminded them of the prior phone call, mentioned I hoped they had an enjoyable Christmas and before they got busy with Lent, would love them to check their parish records for me. It worked! By Valentine’s Day I had pictures of relatives I had never seen, a copy of the parish record book, an understanding of why the family went to a different denomination (it was across the street from where they lived) and a diary on DVD in which a parishioner had recorded daily life in the area that just happened to record ALL of the births and deaths of the family I was searching. January is for me, the best time to obtain church records!

February through Easter and October through December- This might not work for those somewhere other than Florida but I find those months the best time to meet folks from New England, Mid Atlantic and the Midwest as they are temporary residents here and frequently attend local workshops. So, if you’re residing in those locals then do this on the months I haven’t recorded! I pick their brains on resources from their home area, get leads on people back home they know who might help with my research and sometimes, meet a cousin. I’ve blogged previously about a serendipitous meeting I had in October 2016 (Less Than 6 Degrees of Separation and December 2015 A Transcription Treat).

March – April and November – I don’t know why these seem to be less busy times at archives but I’ve always found that the staff was readily available to help and the sites sparse with visitors. I’m talking about the Family History Library in Salt Lake and the New England Historic and Genealogical Society in Boston. I guess most researchers are either on spring break in a warmer climate or too busy getting ready for Thanksgiving during these times leaving the facility vacant. I’ve also had quick responses from state libraries via email during these months.

May – September – Need a tombstone photo? This is the best time to get one! Why? Simply because people visit cemeteries most between Memorial Day (duh!) and Labor Day. Put a request for a photo on Find-A-Grave a week prior to Memorial Day has almost always gotten me the photo I need. Think about it, who in their right mind would go out in a blizzard to take a cemetery photo? Well, yes, I would and have but that was because I was visiting the area and wouldn’t have gotten another chance to find what I needed. If I lived in the area, I would wait til the snow melted.

Thanksgiving – December – I was pining for the marriage record for one of my 3rd great grandparents. It’s not online and I needed to verify the date I found in family records as some of those were slightly off. I had called the small town in Ohio Clerk’s Office in August and was told to follow up with an email. I gave the couple’s names, dates of birth and what I thought was the marriage date. Two weeks went by and I didn’t hear anything so I emailed again. I got a response that the clerical workers were too busy. Waited another two weeks and emailed once more. Got the response that they were still busy and wouldn’t have time to look it up. Emailed the office manager and got no response. I left the email as open in my email account as a reminder I needed to pursue it. Well, on the Monday before Christmas I sent the following: Dear (clerk’s name), I’ve been a good genealogist this year and I’m hoping that you can assist Santa in bringing me the marriage record for my great grandparents – Emma Kuhn and Francis “Frank” Landfair. It’s all I want for Christmas! Wishing you a joyous season, Lori” I got it the next day. The response also explained why it’s never been scanned and online – evidently the book is in poor condition and won’t photograph well. I’ve also used a similar tactic the day before Thanksgiving. I called a cemetery for records and the office worker finally agreed to fax them to me because I told her I was having family over the following day and we just had to know who was buried in which plots. This cemetery is located in a not so nice area so I never could get anyone to take a photo and the clerk had previously refused to release the info due to privacy previously. (BTW-the dead don’t have privacy rights but she was insistent the cemetery rules prohibited her from releasing the plot information).

Hope this helps your hunting as you plan your research for the year!

Photo Preservation for Genealogy

I found it interesting that four of Legacy Family Tree’s top 10 webinars of 2016 revolved around photography (Dating Family Photographs – 1900-1940 by Jane Neff Rollins;  Enriching Your Family History through Pictures and Stories by Amie Bowser Tennant; Scrapbooking & Journaling for Family History by Amie Bowser Tennant; and Share, Store, and Save Your Family Photos by Maureen Taylor).  I guess you could even make a case that a fifth one also involves photos (Crowdsourcing with Social Media to Overcome Brick Walls in Genealogy Research by Amie Bowser Tennant) since FaceBook and Pinterest are valuable genealogical tools to find photos.

I love discovering photos and when I perform Client work I try to add them to a project.  Staring into the eyes of an ancestor elicits emotions like no other item can! 

So, that’s why I’m worried about the present habits we have developed (no pun intended!) regarding preserving our photos.  Our smart phones and other devices have made preserving memories incredibly quick, easy and inexpensive.  I use my phone’s camera for recording anything I want to refer back to, such as a whiteboard that was used during a brainstorm session in a meeting, two garments I might purchase to see which would better match the shoes I left at home, and of course, family events.  I take more photos now than at any earlier stages of my life.  I also have a horrible habit of not preserving those photos I take.  

As I walk throughout my home I noticed that most of the framed photos I have on display were taken by a professional.  Back in the day, having a photograph made was an event in and of itself.  First you had to find the studio, then book an appointment, make sure everyone was dressed and ready to go and finally, return days later to view the proofs to select which you wanted to purchase.  Another trip was necessary to pick up the final product.  No wonder most of those photos are still around.  So much time, effort and cost was involved the photo was determined to be valuable.

Today, not at all.  Snap, click, delete if it wasn’t to everyone’s liking or share if it was.  We don’t print out photos like we did in the past.  Right after the “Years of the Hurricanes” in Florida in the early 2000’s I would have said it was a blessing not to have more photos to lug during an evacuation. CD and Cloud technology seemed like such a great idea.  It was the hurricanes that forced me to scan and save my family’s photos – those from the 1800’s to the recent scrapbooks I had created as my children grew up.  I thought I was being so smart when I saved to CD’s and gave them out as Christmas gifts to various relatives.  My thought was to spread them around to increase the likelihood that they would be preserved.  Have a wildfire in California or a twister in the Midwest?  No worries, the CD will live on in New England.  I never thought about CD’s going away or family members who misplaced them.  

When Cloud technology came out I simply transferred everything online.  How convenient to be able to access those photos from anywhere!  But the program I used, Picassa, became defunct.  So I transferred them to Google Photos and Dropbox and Ancestry.  

It just hit me I’ve preserved the past but not the present.  I’m not saving my current photos at the rate that I did before.  Our family’s Thanksgiving pics are still in my phone, along with birthdays and other events I’ve recently attended.  

Just as I calendar in a monthly day to download my gedcom from Ancestry to save to software (Legacy and RootsMagic7) on my hard drive, a stand alone hard drive and in the Cloud (Dropbox) I need to also be saving my pics.  Yes, I am paranoid but I’ve invested so much time I would be heartsick if all of those were lost.

What I need to do is to get in the habit of cleaning out the photos and preserving them.  My plan is to delete those that didn’t come out well and send those I want to keep to my computer.  I’ll back those up like I do the gedcom.  This is being added to my New Year’s Resolutions!

Genealogical Resolutions

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 3 Jan 2016.

Exercise, eat healthier, lose weight – nope, not for me!  The time has come to resolve for 2016, that I will

  • diligently work on completing my Board of Certification of Genealogy portfolio and submit it before my deadline of October 24th.
  • in my free time (yeah, right) start downloading all of the scans I have placed on Ancestry.com so when I can no longer afford a subscription I won’t have lost anything.  I foolishly saved everything to Ancestry without downloading a copy to my overworked laptop.
  • continue blogging twice a week.
  • plan my upcoming midwest research trip and find things that will interest hubby while I’m researching.
  • really, truly set up an office that is functional.  I’ll be reclaiming the dining room table in the interim now that the holidays are over.
  • reread the genealogical bibles – the Genealogy Standards, Evidence Explained, BCG Skillbuilders, etc, to refresh the unfreshed mind.
  • fix my old citations in my family tree as they really were poorly done back in the day.
  • work on completing my e-book, Thanks to the Yanks. (Since part of this is included in my certification portfolio I’ll be unable to publish until after the process is completed but I can continue to work on it since I’ve changed directions from when I started)
  • continue taking webinars to refine my craft and
  • looking forward to attending conferences, especially the National Genealogy Conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in May!  Email me through my website if you plan on attending, too! (www.genealogyatheart.com)

HAPPY NEW YEARS!

Wilson William’s Wall

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com 19 Apr 2015

brick-wall

The term “brick wall” in genealogy means an impasse has been reached and further knowledge is unavailable.  Conferences are always filled to capacity when the topic of how to break through a wall is presented. Those blocks affect us physically, through wasted time and resources, and emotionally, as frustration and disappointment.  It’s no surprise we’re interested to find a way through that obstacle.

Remember, though, that there are two sides to every wall.  The frustration of needing to detour from my intended route may cloud my view of a solution.  What I can’t clearly see ahead is probably safe and sound, just not yet accessible.  Isn’t that the reason why walls were built in the first place – for protection?  Next time you encounter a brick wall ancestor have a Zen moment and know the missing information is most likely safe somewhere just waiting to be found.

When a family member invited me to be her travel partner on an upcoming business trip to Salt Lake City I was delighted.  The Family History Library has always been on my bucket list but with work and other commitments, a vacation there wasn’t visible on my horizon. With the hotel and plane reserved, I forged ahead with research goal setting and planning, my fourth rule of genealogy.

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” –Alan Lakein

My goal was to find clues on how to climb over at least one my top 10 walls in the four days I would be visiting.

To accomplish my goal, I identified who I would be researching.  This was difficult as I have a large family tree which results in many walls.  I decided to select 5 from my family and 5 from my husband’s side.  I cheated a bit and included spouses so my actual 10 was more like 15.

Then, I followed my number 1 rule of genealogy – write down everything you know and what you want to know – for each of the selected individuals. I also added where I found the information to prove what I did know.  Why?  Through experience I’ve learned that family lore is just that – a word of mouth tradition that someone may have misheard, misunderstood or mythologized. Think the childhood game, telephone, where a sentence is whispered child to child with the last player repeating aloud what he/she heard.  The last oral sentence is not the same as the first oral sentence. Just like the game, there is some similarities in family lore from the time of the original telling but not necessarily the whole story.

In the late 1990’s I discovered the truth about family lore the hard way. Happily clicking away on an online tree I had discovered and saving the info to my own tree, I never stopped to look where the poster had found his sources.   I spent several days adding many individuals to my husband’s side only to learn late one evening that, according to the online tree, he was the great grandson many times removed of Odin and Frigg, the Norse god and goddess.  My spouse is an awesome husband, a devoted dad, a dedicated employee and a loyal friend but it’s a stretch to believe his Grandpa was the founder of the runic alphabet and his Grandma was a sorceress.  He, understandably, liked what I found.  I had to spend many hours deleting the line one individual at a time and have since checked sources before including new information in my tree.

 “Genealogy without sources is mythology.” -Unknown

Definitely a painful but valuable learning experience!

I have also found it useful to review my previously discovered sources before researching further on a line I haven’t looked at for a while.  There may be a hint in plain sight that I missed earlier or by reviewing the record, I may gain a new perspective.

So in preparation for my trip, I pondered my sources for my husband’s 4th great grandfather, Wilson Williams, born in 1754 in Roslyn Harbor, Nassau, New York.  He is found in the 1790, 1800, 1810, 1820 and 1830 Federal censuses as living in North Hempstead, Queens, New York and he has been documented in several texts for his service during the American Revolution, as a witness in two court cases, and for being appointed to maintain the highways as he operated a stagecoach and a ferry to bring visitors between Long Island and Manhattan.  An accomplished carpenter, two of his homes still stand and have been on the Roslyn Landmark Society’s home tours several times. What I could not discover was when he died and where he was buried.  Collaborating with four cousins I met online, a hired genealogist, two research trips to Long Island and Troy, New York where his son had moved in the 1820’s, calls to numerous churches where he may have been a parishioner, cemeteries where he might have been buried, library and historical society visits and hours spent searching online over 16 years uncovered nothing.

I placed Wilson as my 10th brick wall as I was fairly certain that the five of us had checked every possibility in determining his death and burial.

At the Family History Library, I shared my information on Wilson with a genealogist and asked for her suggestions on where to go next.  She recommended checking microfilms of birth, marriage and death records for any church denomination of which Wilson may have been a member.  I narrowed the search to Presbyterian, Quaker and Dutch Reformed as Wilson’s grandchildren were members of those churches and his wife, Margaret, was buried in the Dutch Reformed Church Cemetery.  Many of the microfilms did not have indexes and the process was exhausting.  After several hours I got a text from my family member who asked if I was ready to go to dinner.  “On the last microfilm, be done soon,” I responded.  “Meet you there,” she replied.  Minutes later she appeared on the scene and asked if she could help.  “I’m looking for a record for Wilson Williams.  I’ve been through this film already but found the index at the very end.  I’m just double checking that I didn’t miss him.”  “I’ll do that,” she volunteered as I collected the other films to refile.  In less than 30 seconds she asked, “Is this who you’re looking for?” I glanced at the screen.

wilson1

Stunned, I couldn’t respond.  I reread the words.  Tears of joy moistened my eyes.  If I had not found the index and double checked, the wall would have remained.  Ironically, the family member who found the record is a DAR because of Wilson.

The next day I found another microfilm source for the cemetery where Wilson’s wife is buried:

wilson2

So the “W.W” on the “common field stone” buried in the same plot as wife, Margaret Hicks Williams, was Wilson Williams and he had been where he should have been the whole time.  The answer was clearly right there but none of us had found it.  How had Wilson remained invisible for so long?

“Leave no stone unturned.” -Euripides

Most likely, the field stone with just initials was either missing entirely or not noted by the Find-a-Grave volunteers transcribing and photographing the cemetery because they would have no idea what W.W. stood for.

When I returned home and was adding the pictures and citation to my tree I noticed that the cemetery was in Success, New York.  Success?  I thought the cemetery was in Nassau.  The microfilm noted that North Hempstead became Success which became Manhasset.  Sometime after the book was published it became Nassau.

So why weren’t the records at the church?  The church secretary I had contacted told me the church does not have records of the burials.  Doing a google book search I found that Onderdonk’s (1884) History of the Dutch Reformed Church mentions that the early records were sketchy.  To complicate the situation, a minister had died and the congregation was not in agreement on hiring a replacement.  Half wanted to have a new pastor sent from the Netherlands while the other half wanted to hire a pastor from New York.  Consequently, the church ended up with 2 pastors.  After ten years, one pastor took half the congregation and started another church a few miles away.  He took the records with him.

The records I was viewing were a transcription from the 1940’s copied by a Josephine Frost.  She noted that her transcript was from a book by Onderdonk that was in disrepair.  Frost was unable to find the original church records that had been donated to the Long Island Historical Society but they were available when Onderdonk published his book.  There are only 12 copies of Frost’s book.  They are in Cincinnati, OH, Indianapolis, IN, Harrisburg, PA, Ann Arbor, MI, 2 in Chicago, IL, Ithaca, NY, Independence, MO, Edmond, OK, Albany, NY, Provo, UT, and La Jolla, CA.  The Family History Library in Salt Lake City has a microfilm of one of these books.

Wilson Williams spent his entire life in Long Island, New York yet the 13 records of his death do not reside where he lived and died.  Sometimes looking in the most logical place will not give you the answer.  I had to detour more than 1900 miles to get over the wall.

The microfilm record gave me far more information on Wilson then just his date of death.  Next time, I’ll tell you more about the meaning of Wilson’s fieldstone marker.