Monday, November 17, 2014

Getting Started: Census Shenanigans

The family history of most people is made of hundreds of census records. Therefore, finding people in a census is an essential fundamental skill. Which is why it can be a little embarrassing when it proves to be difficult. It's not like I've done this 84,000 times...


But that's the thing about genealogy. Even when something is a fundamental skill doesn't mean you ever stop learning how to do it better. There are some of us that like to call ourselves experienced, but we're all still improving the same basic skills.

Defining the Problem

This round of census trouble is with my 2x great grandfather Pomp Fenity. You may recall that I did a video about him and his wife Annie on my Youtube channel. In 1924 he lost his wife to measles, and before long he lost his farm and his family to the Great Depression. His children were sent to friends, relatives, and jobs outside of Virginia, and he spent the next several years working for the Works Progress Administration.

What this translates into for me is no longer looking for a single family unit, but him and his surviving children scattered to the wind. I still have no idea where my great grandmother was during the Great Depression, or her father Pomp. But I have most of the siblings now, and just filled in one more piece of the puzzle for missing 1930 and 1940 census appearances.

Where was Pomp in 1940? 

Living as a lodger in the Pigg River District of Pittsylvania County, Virginia.

1940 U.S. census, Pittsylvania County, Virginia, population schedule, Pigg River, enumeration district (ED) 72-31, sheet 8-B, household 124, "Pomp Finnety"; digital image, ( : accessed 17 Novamber 2014); citing NARA microfilm publication T627, roll 4284.

What exactly was my error that kept me from finding this record sooner? The variation of his surname spelling isn't new, and I've seen more obtuse variations than this one. His age is also off by 10 years, which is a much larger range than I am accustomed to searching.

But my crucial error was one of insanity. I was searching over and over again with the same one website, finding nothing, and somehow expecting different results each time I tried. I was relying entirely on to either find the record for me in shaky leaf hints, or to find it by playing around with enough sliders in their search field.

By the time I provided enough search parameters to weed out thousands of records irrelevant to me, I also weeded out the one thing I was trying to find.

Using HeritageQuest

The first time I tried something different was when the breakthrough happened, and it was with a website I think no one doing US research should ever overlook.

When I get into a census record jam, I like to use HeritageQuest. It's a website that is free to most Americans through their local state library system. Some of them even have remote access pages where you can log in with your library card number on your home computer.

Why do I use it when I have subscriptions to fancy sites like and MyHeritage? Because its census search feature is simple, exhaustive, and the results are still relevant. It's a balance that I've never seen in another website, and I wish more of them would learn something from what HeritageQuest is doing so well.

By typing in Given and/or Surname, census year, and a state, I can see every instance of my search term in that state, broken down by county. I can start with the county where I'm accustomed to finding my ancestor, and see all the occurrences of his name. If I don't find him there, I can quickly change to a different county, or even to the whole state.

It places all of the results in an alphabetical list by Surname, but I can change it to sort by all of the options displayed in the drop-down list. So if I want to check possible name variants, I can sort by name. For people with common names, it's helpful to sort by age and narrow your results that way. Birthplace can also be an important filter.

Jargon on the Census

Overlooking information on any record is an excellent way to cheat yourself out of important information. I talked about this in my most recent video on Deciphering Jargon, and the same ideas apply to census records as well. Never pass over numbers, codes, or abbreviations. They can provide an impressive amount of important information.

A great census tool I discovered recently for decoding this type of information was created by Steve Morse. There are several series of codes on the 1910-1940 censuses, and you can look them up with their series of drop-down menus. The employment code ended up being useful to me because 988 V9 2 is for someone working in construction who is paid by the government. It was a useful confirmation that he was still a part of the WPA, without requesting his (very expensive) file from the National Archives.

Those codes can be an excellent way of determining who the informant was for the information as well. Pomp's education code on the 1940 census was "90" which means his education level is unknown and he's over the age of 6. Because I know he was literate enough to read and write, I know he attended school. Therefore, if the information is unknown it was because he wasn't the one providing it.

What dead ends have you had searching through the census? What are some of your favorite tools to work through census records?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Learning: Deciphering Jargon on Genealogy Records

Ever looked at a record and seen all kinds of letters and numbers and asked yourself, "What does that mean?"

Yeah. I made a video about that.

Be sure to like, comment, and subscribe!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Blogs, Blogs, & Podcasts

My co-blogger gave me the One Lovely Blog Award. She has her own fabulous blog over at Genealogically Speaking. To anyone doing research Down Under, or from two different countries a world apart for that matter, Caitie Gow is a researcher that can teach you thing or two. Be on the lookout for her as she attends Rootstech 2015 and all the rest of her genea-journeys. She's certain to become a force to be reckoned with.

Here are the Rules for the “One Lovely Blog Award”:
1. Thank the person who nominated you and link to that blog
2. Share Seven things about yourself – refer below
3. Nominate 15 bloggers you admire (or as many as you can think of!) – also listed below
4. Contact your bloggers to let them know that you’ve tagged them for the One Lovely Blog Award

Seven Things about Myself
  1. I lived in Brazil for a year and I speak and write fluently in Portuguese
  2. My husband and I own over 1,000 books. Our idea of redecorating is buying more bookshelves.
  3. I started doing genealogy because of my mother. She used to force me to go to cemeteries as a child, and I never imagined there could be anything more strange. But it made me want to know who my family was and where we came from. I've been searching for them ever since.
  4. I actually got to meet two of my great-grandmothers. One died just before I turned 8, the other just after I turned 10. I have vivid memories of both of them.
  5. The person I admire more than anyone else in this world is my grandmother. She is everything I ever want to be. She has had the strength and the courage to forgive so many people who didn't deserve it. Anyone at all is always welcome in her home, and at her table. No matter how far anyone falls from grace in our family, they're always welcome at Thanksgiving and she never takes their picture down from her wall. If I had one ounce of her true kindness, I would be a better person.
  6. I believe whole-heartedly in fortune cookies.
  7. My favorite color is purple. So it works out that my name is Heather.

I like quizzy little Answer-these-Questions type things because I like introspection. But I recognize not everyone likes the idea of being obligated to do something by random people on the internet. So instead of passing on the challenge inherent in this award, I will point out a few of the blogs I follow. If they want to accept the award and pass it on, great...

 ... if not, it won't churn my butter.

  • Clue Wagon by Kerry Scott. We clearly love all of the same t.v. shows. She has a fresh, honest voice in the genealogical community I find to be refreshing. I get excited every time I see a new post from her.
  • The Ancestry Insider - Aside from the impressive accomplishment of being TIME magazine's Man of the Year in 2006, he also has a keen interest in honest commentary of genealogy's corner of the internet. There's nothing going down at, FamilySearch, or pretty much with anything else genealogy-related that he doesn't know about. As the last one to know everything, it's nice to have someone to look to for answers when something goes down.
I've been looking for a place to slide this in, and here seems like the perfect place. I love podcasts. A lot. And there are a few I think that, if you aren't tuning in, you are definitely missing out. If you like podcasts and genealogy, be sure to check a few of these out!

  • Extreme Genes: Ever imagined what a genealogy radio show would sound like? It would sound exactly like Extreme Genes. As an iHeart radio program, there are tons of ways you can access it.
  • Genealogy Gems: from Lisa Louise Cooke, who does a little bit of everything. News, interviews, product reviews, etc.
  • Family Tree Magazine podcast: Great highlights from Family Tree magazine, especially if you don't have a subscription.
  • Genealogy Guys: Interviews from big genealogy events and conferences. 
  • Geneatopia: Great for Genealogy headlines

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Our Stories: Preparing for my first RootsTech

During the latter half of 2013, RootsTech and the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) announced that they were combining their conferences in 2015. I thought ‘Hey, I’m graduating from Uni at the end of 2014, why not make it a graduation present to myself?’ And with that, I made it my goal to attend.

At the beginning of 2014, I began researching information about RootsTech to get an idea of hotels, prices and whatnot. I learned that it is a good idea to book your hotel around July/August when prices are released. So, I did.

Since July, I had been checking the website almost every day to find out when registration was going to open. It kept saying ‘late summer’ and at some point it changed to ‘late August’. When I checked it on Tuesday the 26th of August, the RootsTech website said registration would open on August 29th. I just about jumped out of my chair. I looked at the prices and noticed that it was $159 + FGS add-on for $39. I crossed over to the FGS website and discovered that registration was already open there, for a cost of $139 if you register before September 12th + RoostTech add-on of $39. Basically, registering for FGS was $20 cheaper. So, on Friday the 29th of August, that’s what I did. You can watch my video of that HERE (Warning: dancing included).

I have been saving and saving for this trip and am super excited, but I am also a little worried because it could be my first overseas trip solo. My Aunt might come with me but we are not 100% sure at this stage. During my excitement this past week, I bought myself a super cute travel diary the other day, along with a new 2015 diary (seriously? It’s only September!). The hotel is booked and registration is done. Flights? Not yet. I’m saving up a little bit more money before I do that. My main priority is booking the Dallas – Salt Lake City flight though. 

I also need to watch some videos about RootsTech so I can make sure I am prepared and have everything I need. One particular video I am going to watch is the Google Hangout Jill Ball (GeniAus) did about RootsTech for first timers.

Every now and then I get many thoughts and questions running through my head such as…
- Do I take my laptop or tablet or both?
- How many business cards do I need? Should I order more beforehand?
- Should I use a separate camera for vlogging instead of my phone?

Little random yet important questions like that!

I will keep y'all updated with blog posts and videos about my preparation for RootsTech & FGS.

Are YOU going to RootsTech & FGS next year?

Do YOU have any advice for my first time at RootsTech & FGS? Or a first genealogy conference in general? 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Learning: 10 Source Citations Everyone Needs to Know

Learning how to do source citations is one of the most important steps to taking your research to the next level. As I was going through the process of learning about source citations, I had a vision in my mind of the lesson on source citations I wish I would have seen a long time ago. So that's what I've created for you all today, and I hope it becomes a benefit to everyone who sees it!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Getting Started: Thrift Shop Genealogy

One of the realities of being a young genealogist is that you are broke most of the time. Our income has a non-negotiable function of keeping us alive--and between paying our own bills, handling student/life-related debt, and the rest of our various expenses, there may not be much left over.

Calculate in the money we've already decided to spend on genealogy for software, record access and subscriptions, books, and research trips there isn't a lot left over. How we make our dime stretch is exactly what makes us so savvy--it's out of pure necessity.

So from one savvy researcher to another, I'm going to let you in on one of my best secrets in how I save money.

The Thrift Shop

I'm gonna pop some tags
Only got 20 dollars in my pocket

The thrift store has saved me thousands of dollars on my genealogy bottom line so far. As I've been unpacking and setting up my office, that much has become blatantly clear to me. Let me break down some of my finds with you by category, and leave any others you can think of in comments!

Office Supplies:

  • Binders - All sizes and colors
  • Report Covers - Smaller and lighter than binders, excellent for mailing reports or charts to family, genealogical societies, libraries, or clients
  • Various office supplies - dividers, hole punches, sheet protectors, organizer bins and trays, file boxes, staplers, etc.
  • Computer/ Tech gadgets - Wireless keyboards/mouse, external monitors, power cords, HDMI cables, plugs, cables, adapters of every kind.
  • Data storage - external hard drives, CDs, DVDs, flash drives, etc
  • Thank you cards - For grandma letting you tear her house apart looking through her stuff

Photos/Photo Restoration

  • Printers - also, any missing power cords or cables for yours
  • Paper - Standard, Photo, etc.
  • Ink cartridges
  • Scanners
  • Photo Albums
  • Frames
  • Software


  • Computer software - Family Tree Maker, Adobe Acrobat Pro, Photoshop, etc. If you're willing to use outdated programs as workarounds, this can save you hundreds of dollars on software.
  • General History - Some of my best Civil War resources were ones I found at the thrift store
  • Local Histories - ALWAYS stop by the thrift store on your research trips to where ancestors lived. You never know what you could find there.
  • Research References - Even though we don't use Chicago Manual of Style or MLA, principles of good research are universal. They're still worth a read. Same thing with used textbooks.
  • Dictionaries - Look for older references to be able to look up outdated words from old journals and letters
  • Atlases - Wish you had maps to mark up, hang on the wall, or use for a craft? Get an old atlas or map book from the thrift store and go to town
  • Also, check out and other used book sites. I refuse to pay full price for a book anymore. Sure, the publisher and the author don't get any money from me. But they should have thought of that before they charged $50 for book! You want my money? Put that crap on Kindle!

I'm not a cloud--I don't make it rain.

Giving Back/Service Opportunities

  • Bibles - Do you check Bibles at the thrift store to see if someone wrote family details in them? If you find one, have you ever tried to return it to the proper family? Did you know you can donate these to archives and they'll preserve/index this information? Even if you only take some shots with your camera phone and post them online, it's better than doing nothing. Be sure to take down the name of the store where you found it.
  • Photos - Have you ever found unmarked photos? If they're cheap, purchase them and see if you can't return them to their original owner. If your cash is short, try to take some decent shots with your camera phone, front and back. Post them online and see if you can't find the owners. Good genealogy karma is real, and you never know if someone might be trying to do the same thing for your family right now.


  • Music - I can't work without music in the background, and I always need more. Music is a powerful tool for jogging memories too. Get to know the music your grandparents listened to. Play it when they're around and see what memories come to mind as they hear it.
  • Movies


  • Dry Erase Maps - Get a map, put it in the proper sized frame, make sure the frame uses glass. You can now write on it with dry erase markers. Trace migrations, or even mark permanent locations in permanent marker
  • Photo Tree - Ever seen one of these jewelry trees at the thrift store? You can re-purpose it like I did using small picture frames from your local craft store. 
  • Cross Stitch - Once upon a time, family members would create a cross stitch of their family history. You can do the same thing, and sometimes thrift stores have the thread, needles, patterns, and hoops to get started
  • Scrap book - Also find your materials and trinkets here

And as a bonus, here's an anthem for your awesome thrift store finds:

Saturday, July 12, 2014

My AncestryDNA Review: A Cautionary Tale

[UPDATE: Please be advised that this review is almost two years old. In that time, there have been several changes to AncestryDNA's product. Because those features have greatly impacted the AncestryDNA test and its usefulness, I have given a second review of those additional features. Thank you for your continued interest. I wish all of you the best success in your efforts with DNA testing for genealogical pursuits. -Heather, 28 Jan 2016]

As some of you know, I took the AncestryDNA test back in February of this year. I got my results back a long time ago, and even though I posted them on Twitter I never blogged about them. I made a video about my immediate reaction, but never shared it. I wanted to give myself time to see, from start to finish, the impact their DNA test would have on my research. That's what makes a DNA test successful, in my book. What impact did it have on my research?

But first, let me share my results:

My AncestryDNA results

As you can see, I'm one of the most diverse people, genetically speaking, that you could ever hope to find. What I have to discover in terms of international research and connections to people across the globe cannot be understated. It has never been more apparent to me than it is now how much I need to make solid DNA connections with other people. It may be the only way I'll ever know some of my heritage.

As a matter of disclosure, both of my grandmothers were illegitimate children. So a significant amount of this genetic material represents people who are unknown to me.

What impact has the AncestryDNA ethnicity estimates had on your research?

Absolutely none. These genetic percentages have not had any impact on my research whatsoever. Not in terms of people I know about already, nor those I have yet to discover. How could they? The African heritage was of no surprise to me. I didn't need a test to confirm this to me. The biggest surprise to me were the amounts of Jewish heritage I possess. But again, what am I supposed to do with this information? How am I supposed to use that to find the people to whom I'm related? How is this of any genealogical benefit to me at all?

Paying for information I cannot use puts me into the exact same position I was in before I ever knew the information. In fact, I was better off BEFORE I took the AncestryDNA test in this respect because then at least I would still have $99 and could take a test from a different company.

My Suggestion: If AncestryDNA wants the ethnicity estimates to have greater value and overall impact on someone's research, this needs to play out in the cousin matches. Instead of telling me what the match's genetic breakdown was like, and leaving me wondering which part of their breakdown applies to me--tell me which one applies to me.

I won't pretend to understand what Ancestry's beef is with a chromosome browser, but in terms of privacy this feature I'm suggesting doesn't have to be complicated or threatening in any way. Even if you highlight, italicize, or bold the Region I share with my match, this is better than what this system currently does--which is nothing. Preferably, I would like it if they would at least show me the chromosomes that apply to this match. But if you can't/won't do that, give me something--anything--that I can work with.

Final grade for the AncestryDNA ethnicity estimates: D+
It has potential. They have demonstrated to me that they have the ability to deal with a complicated genetic sample like mine. But this feature is so under-developed, I'm glad it was never my real motivation for taking the test. Because if it were, I'd be even more disappointed.

What impact has the AncestryDNA cousin matching had on your research?

None. Worse than none. If I could give a negative score for this, I would.

This feature was the reason I took the AncestryDNA test. Believe it or not, I did my research on this test before I took it. I already knew the ethnicity results weren't going to impress me much. But I figured I would more than make up for that via the cousin matches. And to be honest, this didn't happen.

How can two little strands cause so much drama?
When I open my cousin matches, I have 188 pages of matches. At 50 matches per page, that may seem like a lot of people. But everything after page 3 are what they called "Distant Cousins." That means that they're 5th cousins or even more distant than that. The ancestor we share is so far removed from both of us that our chances of tracing them accurately on paper will be difficult. So in AncestryDNA's best interest, they don't count. Since AncestryDNA hasn't given me the tools I need to analyze these cousins more carefully, they've really given me no choice but to decide these distant cousins don't count.

Which leaves me with pages 1 through 3. And I honestly wish I had better things to say about the experience I'm having there. Because I paid $99 for these three pages of cousin matches, and it was the only money I had to spend on a DNA test. I want in my soul for it to have been worth it because I don't get a do-over with someone else. This is it, at least for the foreseeable future.

They've matched me with 2 second cousins, 6 third cousins, and 96 fourth cousins. Let me break down my real results for you by group:
  • One second cousin I already know. We have all of the same information. The other has a private tree and hasn't responded to my messages to find out who she is. 
  • Of my third cousin matches: 2 have private trees, 2 have public trees with no matches to anyone in my tree, and 2 have no tree. None of them have responded to my messages to collaborate
  • Of the 4th cousin matches: 17 have private trees. One of them has allowed me to see hers so far. Our connection could not be determined. 24 of my matches either had trees unavailable or no trees at all. That leaves me with 55 matches I can explore right now, none of which match anyone in my tree.
    (Three people have responded to my messages, but only to ask me for help. I was very grateful for their cooperation, please don't misunderstand. But when no relationship between us could be determined, how was that experience supposed to be anything but disappointing for all of us involved?)
  • The only matches I have where Ancestry could determine our shared ancestor--based on our matching trees and NOT DNA--were from the Distant Cousins category. And one of them I know for a fact is wrong because we both descend from step-children of the same ancestor. We have him in our trees as a father to his non-biological step children, but at least in mine I have marked him as a non-biological parent to Laura Griffin Clark. Not that this translates over to AncestryDNA at all, which is a stupid error on their part. (I'm sorry. I've tried to refrain from using the word "stupid" in this review because it's terribly non-constructive. But that's what that is. Not implementing the biological/adoption information from the Ancestry trees is stupid!)

It wasn't until I saw what other testing companies could offer me, and I discovered what a chromosome browser is, that I realized how short-changed I was. And apparently, this has been an ongoing battle with Customers of genealogical DNA testing from other companies have been asking for better DNA analysis tools. refuses to supply them, their rational being concerns of "privacy," and the idea that they want their product to be more "simple."

Let's talk about that word for a second. Simple. If something is simple, that means it is without significant barriers to the ends and objectives it was meant to achieve. It also means it should be approachable to all users, of any experience level, who choose to use it. True simplicity means I can achieve results without struggle, and anyone who comes before or after me should be able to do the same thing.

Simplicity does NOT mean that you deliver an inferior product, on purpose, at full market price to customers who don't know any better. That is not true simplicity. It's dishonesty. And the ways in which this test is inferior is not allowing people to achieve results, or oftentimes leading them to false conclusions. Not only is this bad for genealogical research, it goes against the Genealogical Proof Standards that professional genealogists know they're supposed to uphold.

And because AncestryDNA delivers such a sub-par product, it doesn't end up being simpler to the users in the end. It ends up being much more difficult for all of us to draw meaningful conclusions from our tests. So they need to come up with a better justification than this. Because that is a royal load of nonsense.

Potluck Mentality: Let me show up
but not bring anything!
My Suggestions: Make full participation in the cousin matching mandatory. If you're concerned about privacy and not getting your feelings hurt by what you find in a DNA test, then DNA testing is not for you. I shouldn't have to beat down someone else's door asking them to come play. We pay the same amount of money for our tests. They get to see my results, and I don't get to see theirs? This compromises my results, and means that has to deliver an inferior product to me because of someone else's potluck mentality.

DNA for genealogy HAS to be collaborative, or it does not work. By definition, it CANNOT work. You can't have a service that relies on comparative science, and isolate it down to services provided for a single user. But that's what AncestryDNA tries to do, and that's what users with privacy settings do. Privacy settings eliminate interactions between users. And it's an inappropriate way to approach DNA testing for genealogy.

Also, chromosome browser! Either buy one or build one! Or come up with something even better. Give me the analysis tools I need. I would say, "Or I'm going somewhere else." But that's already a foregone conclusion. I AM going somewhere else, anywhere else, that can do a better job with "cousin matching" than AncestryDNA.

Final grade for the AncestryDNA cousin matches: F
My disappointment with the service I have received is so complete, I have nothing good to say.

Final grade for the AncestryDNA test as a whole: D-

I trust as a company, they've always given me the best results in terms of genealogy related products. I am exactly the type of customer they should be trying to make happy. I'm not only fiercely loyal to their products, but I have consistently recommended them as the only place for my friends to go when they are serious about their genealogy research. Not only that, but I'm 24--I am their future. I am the market they most need to worry about reaching. They have a very real vested interest in keeping me happy for a long time.

While I still feel that in terms of record access, database quality, and mobile platforms they have no real rival in my eyes, I expected the same caliber of service from my DNA test. And I didn't get what I paid for.

I took this particular DNA test because I truly believed that had ambitions to be the market leader of DNA research--as they are in every other facet of what they do. I trust them to be around a long time with my information. I felt secure in that guarantee.

But seeing as they've decided to discontinue their Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA services, I don't see how they could ever be top-dog in the market now. Especially not after destroying irreplaceable DNA samples and removing access to the results from their website.

Until I see some momentum on their part in terms of change, I will not purchase another DNA test from them. I will not encourage anyone else to take an AncestryDNA test. In fact, I will join a growing vocal portion of the genealogical community that discourages people from taking AncestryDNA tests.

I feel ya! Same thing happened to me. What should I do now?

I wish I had a better answer. You can export your DNA results from AncestryDNA for free, but what to do with them at that point is a mystery to me. If you have $69 you can upload them to Family Tree DNA. They have way more analysis tools and they come highly recommended from a lot of people I've been listening to so far. You can buy a test from them too, but honestly they seem a little expensive to me.

23andMe is another option, and in terms of what I've seen of their interface via this Google Hangout, it looks pretty awesome. Wish I had $99 for another test.

Your other option is to wait for to come back online (like I am right now) and upload your AncestryDNA results there for free. They'll provide you with more analysis tools so you can see exactly what is going on with your DNA results. You know, so you can actually USE them for something. Here's to hoping that turns out better, but no word on their site about how long they're going to be MIA.

Maybe you'll get lucky and find some money in the street somewhere...

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Learning: Plotting Family Cemeteries on Google Maps

Have you ever been looking for an old family cemetery and never been able to find it? It can be a really irritating experience, especially when you discover that the location was written down in a really obscure place the entire time.

Been there. Done that.

If only there were some way for anyone to plot cemeteries on a map that EVERYBODY uses...

Oh wait. There totally is!

All the place markers in Google Maps don't just show up one day. Someone puts them in, using a tool called Google Map Maker. And fortunately, cemeteries are really easy to add!

Check out this video to learn how you can add places to Google Maps. When you get to the place category list, there is a category specifically for Cemeteries. Click on that, fill in the pertinent information, and you're done! Once your changes are approved, they'll be visible on Google Maps for all to see.

If your family cemeteries are WAY out in the sticks like mine are, and the road or path to access the cemetery isn't on Google Maps either, you can add that as well. Here's a video explaining how to do it. If you need help, check out the Map Maker forums and the fun folks over there will help you out.

And as always, don't forget to check out the FindaGrave app and BillionGraves to plot the GPS coordinates of individual graves for your family members. Answer photo requests and add GPS coordinates for the cemeteries in your area to help others out as well. If you want your relatives to be find-able to the generation that Googles, be sure Google knows where your relatives are buried!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Movin' & Shakin'--Getting it Done Before you Move

In five short days, a 28 foot trailer is going to be arriving at my house. Inside of that trailer, my husband and are going to place all of our material possessions. My photo albums, family heirlooms, my binder with all of my notes and charts, my personal history, the three years of love letters between me and my husband, my journals—everything. And I won’t see any of them again until that trailer arrives 5-7 days later, 2455 miles away.

We’re moving from the eastern United States to the west, and we have a lot to do. And the challenge to me is one that pulls at my heartstrings, even now. The time when I most want to make and record memories with family is the time I’m least equipped to do so. My tools, materials, and notes have already been packed away.

So what is the best way to do genealogy right before/during a major move like mine? Here are some helpful suggestions from my life experience so far:

Create opportunity

You’ll probably visit with family before you leave. Convince them to dig out the photo albums, and take care of any loose-end projects you haven’t finished yet. Guide the conversation. Look for records you may not have seen yet—and never assume you’ve seen everything your relatives have to show you. I wanted to re-scan a particular photo of my great grandmother, and combed through all of my grandmother’s pictures looking for it. I never found it, but I DID find grandma’s collection of funeral cards—many of which I’ve never seen before. Something I never would have thought to ask her about, and I’m so glad I found.

If you have aging relatives, try to sit down and do interviews with them. If you’re moving far away, they may not be living when you visit again. Audio recordings are an excellent way to take in this information. Most cell phones, MP3 players, tablets, and laptops have audio recorders. Papers may get lost or packed away in some unknown location—but your electronics are likely to stay out and about with you. Going digital, even if you don’t like to do so most of the time, is your best bet when you’re in the middle of moving.


Don’t risk leaving anything behind. And in a two-researcher house like mine, each spouse should probably pack their own history. The one actively doing the research is the only one who is going to know if that printout from the internet is one of 8 copies floating around somewhere, or the only copy from a now defunct website. So pack your own stuff. Label the boxes the way you want them labelled, and already be planning how you’re going to organize your new office/workspace in your new place. The less steps there are between your old home and your new one, the less chance there will be to lose anything irreplaceable.

Reduce, Improvise, and Give Away

Many of us have fancy, expensive equipment we like to use when we perform our genealogical magic. But much of the better equipment, especially if it’s bulky or fragile, may be among the first things we pack away. Bulky scanners, copiers, cameras & lenses, desktop computers, etc—reduce your dependence on that technology. Use mobile tools and explore applications that will help you digitize. Shoebox from is a great option, but requires Internet to upload images to your tree. So if grandma doesn’t have “wee-fee” in her condo, you may have to find another way to record history at her place.

Since you’re creating opportunities on the fly, you’ll probably have to improvise when the moment comes. I found myself wanting to do an interview with my great great aunt, and I had no questions prepared. So I had to improvise. I did get some important explanations I needed about some relatives drafted in World War I. But I also ended up getting some interesting accounts of where my family members were during 9/11. I hadn’t planned on it, and it came off beautifully.

We also need to be aware of/take advantage of moving opportunities with our aging relatives. If they are the ones going through the move, perhaps to a smaller home or assisted living, we should volunteer to help. Many times our grandparents and elderly relatives become sentimental with age and try to hold onto their possessions with deep attachment. When that’s no longer possible, never be absent when they’re making the “Should they stay or should they go?” decisions. They aren’t historians, and many times don’t understand the historical value many of their possessions have to you. Being there may keep them from throwing away/selling/donating what we might like to have.

If they do genealogy and have huge loaded filing cabinets, offer to help them organize/reduce their load. Offer to take care of part of the collection for a time, digitize or publish. Help them organize with other family members to take care of smaller, more manageable parts of the collection. Maybe even try to convince them that the time has come to pass along what they have to the next generation, and offer to take up the gauntlet. Help them prepare to donate what can be donated to a relevant historical society, or public library. Contact the society or library to ask about their submission policies, and try to prepare a donation.

This is a rare time to help your family go through their possessions, and possibly acquire things they would otherwise refuse to part with. But be sensitive. If they aren’t ready to give away their possessions and they have something you need, ask if you can borrow it during the move, and then offer to return it by a specific date. A date commits you to getting the task done, and makes it more likely for them to say yes because they can hold you accountable to a time frame.


Budget your time for packing so you have time to spend with family. Plan your outings with family to be conducive to any genealogy you want to do. You can’t go through photo albums in a restaurant, so speak up if you don’t want to go to a restaurant. If your family knows you’re a genealogy geek, many times they won’t even have to ask you how you’d rather spend the day. They’ll already know your idea of a good time is playing in the cemetery. But in case they don’t, speak up. Keep them informed on what you’re doing and what you’re working on, and many times they’ll try to help. They may even agree to take up a project you can no longer do because you’re leaving.

If you have research trips you still need to do, budget and plan to do them before you leave. If time and money won’t allow it, use the Internet to make it happen. Facebook helped me to do everything I wanted to do in Virginia right from my living room. I contacted the Grayson County Heritage Foundation and got the information I needed on Glenn Doyle and Pearl Bartlett. Pittsylvania County had great finds, which you can read about here and here. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are a lot of good people who are just as excited to see you succeed as you are.

Haven’t had a family reunion in a while? Take charge and plan one. Make it for a time when you know you can be there. Get phone numbers, addresses, add the right people on Facebook to make this happen. If you know you can only afford one trip east a year and you can’t decide between research trip and family reunion—see if you can’t plan the family reunion in the “homeland.” Share what you’ve learned about your family with relatives, all in the place where it happened. Get the most bang for your buck in travel expenses, and create memories your family will never forget with some awesome living history.

Get excited!

What genealogical resources exist where you live? Have you looked into it yet? I am SO JAZZED that I am over 2,000 miles closer to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City than I was before. I’ve never been there, and now I can plan to go. What was outside of our budget is now comfortably within our grasp to do. I can’t wait to go swimmin’ in microfilm, I’m so excited!

What resources are available through the public library system where you’re going? What does it take to get a library card? Where is the closest state/national archive, and what do they offer? Are you using WorldCat? Update your lists to your new closest libraries, and start planning your new roadtrips to discovery!

Good luck, and happy moving!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Success: Using Facebook Groups for Genealogy

Facebook is something I’ve been trying to use for genealogy for a long time. It has always seemed like it has so much potential. Because a significant portion of the entire human population uses Facebook on a semi-regular basis, it could be one of the greatest untapped genealogy goldmines in existence.

But HOW to go about using it? That’s what I couldn’t decide. After a failed experiment to create a profile for my great great grandmother, I decided to use a more traditional approach. I set up a new profile for myself, and tried to find as many useful features as possible--including Facebook groups.

What groups should I join?

When I was looking for groups, I wanted to find historical societies, and County/Municipality/City genealogy research groups. Use the search bar at the top and use different combinations of search terms. “Pittsylvania County Historical Society,” or “Halifax Genealogy,” keep searching until you find what you’re looking for.

If you think this is the only person
to talk to on Facebook, think again!

Be as specific as you can with the group search. Don’t just search for a Virginia genealogy group, there are at least 4 or 5 of them. I found one for both Pittsylvania County and Grayson County, Virginia. I didn’t see one for Claiborne County, Tennessee so then I opted for a plain Tennessee Group. If you don’t see a group you need, you can try starting one and see how it plays out.

For my Canadian research, I wanted to find a Halifax city research group because that’s how centralized my research is for those generations. But sometimes it may be enough to branch out by country. I haven’t explored any sort of Jamaican or Barbadian research groups yet, but that’s enough of a niche that a basic group may help me get started.

What are the limitations of using Facebook groups for genealogy research?

Facebook Groups are like a step back in time in terms of research. It’s a lot like working on the message boards of yesteryear, throwing out some information and hoping something sticks. However, Facebook is NOT a message board. If you treat it like a message board, you won’t be likely to find very much.

Whereas a message board is public and can be accessed/found through Google searches, Facebook groups are often private and can only be accessed by the people in the group. Facebook groups are also timeline based, which means it functions the same way your personal Facebook timeline does. 

Within 30 days whatever you posted to the group is going to be buried inside the timeline. The only way to access it after that is through lots of clicking and scrolling. And because many groups are private and limited only to those who are members, you may have to repost things a few times in a few different places.

I know this is what you're thinking. Stay with me.
It gets awesome in a minute ;)

Facebook groups are like a genealogy roulette wheel. There are some things you can do to increase your odds, but a lot of it is simply being in the right place at the right time. Because when it pays off, IT REALLY PAYS OFF!

How can I increase my chances of getting a hit on a Facebook group?

Your post needs to be directly worded, and focus on a question. If you have a question about Annie Fenity, limit your inquiry to only that question. Maybe include one or two helpful pieces of information you have in relation to that question. Include a picture if you have one. It helps if the people you’re researching are at the center of something interesting or controversial. Make your inquiry engaging so people want to read it, and then want to help you.

Facebook: It's not just for cat ladies anymore...

If you have another question, make another post. If you didn’t get any responses, maybe ask the Admin or the group itself if they know anyone who is researching the surname you’re trying to find. Generally speaking, most people will only try to answer the question you asked. If one question didn’t work, try a different question, or at a different time of day. The more people who see your post, the more likely you are to find someone who can help you.

Is it worth the trouble?

Absolutely. Yes. 100%. No question.

This week I posted a simple inquiry to a Facebook group. I wanted to know who Annie Rorer’s parents are. I provided a picture of Annie and her husband Pomp Fenity. I briefly told how Annie was raised by her aunt and uncle, how her uncle killed her aunt in 1906, and Annie never knew who her real parents were. Family mystery, we want to know the truth.

Within a few minutes I met a distant cousin of mine, not even related to me through the lines I was asking about. He still lives in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. Not only did he point me in the right direction to some people who knew my great grandfather personally, he has been doing research for me at the county courthouse. He found more information about Annie’s aunt and uncle I didn’t have. He also helped me locate an old family cemetery for another line in my family that has never been mapped. He’s pointing me to court cases and things in the probate I had no idea existed until I talked to him.

My new cousin also put me in touch with a woman who wants to help me with my research. She wants to see what sort of documentation exists to explain why Annie and John were placed with such questionable relatives. She also has been putting genealogies together for families from the county for years now. My information is becoming a part of a county history, which has been my goal from the very beginning.

All because of one Facebook post. It's good enough to become my latest obsession.

Why should we bother exploring what Facebook has to offer your research? Because the connections you could potentially make may prove to be absolutely indispensable. You’ll never know unless you look. And that kind of curiosity is what got most of us into this mess…

…and is in itself the greatest reward.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Learning: Making a Timeline... for your BLOG!

Check out this amazing new timeline I learned how to use! Complete with documentation and links to the originals. I can finally post all of the documentation about an ancestor in one convenient post without it going on for days!

Also, because it runs out of a Google Spreadsheet in Google Drive, I can make an infinite number of these timelines without it taking up ANY drive space!

Think it can't get better? Well, it just did. Because it's a Google Spreadsheet, it will update in real time. So every time you make a breakthrough and find more documentation, all you have to do is add a line in the spreadsheet. It will then update automatically and display your result in the original post.

Check out Timeline JS if you want to harness this sweet awesomeness!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Sweet Spots: Halifax, Nova Scotia

Doing genealogy for Halifax, Nova Scotia has been like a frolic through a genealogical sunny meadow. I've never seen a place that made it so easy to find original records, to use a new website, or trace multiple generations of a family. Quite frankly, when I die and go to genealogy heaven, it's gonna look like Canada.

There's an essential trifecta which allows this to be the case, and our friends to the North deserve mad props for a job well done. So if you're doing Maritime genealogy, there are three resources you need to be using.

Library and Archives Canada

Before you sign up for, get your census records here! They have census records available for free, which you can download. The only one you have to pay to see is the 1921 Canadian census, which LAC sold to But if you take a visit to a local Latter-day Saint family history center, you can search the 1921 census there for free.

LAC is also your first stop for doing war research, especially WWI. My great great grandfather Lester Ince was one of the few black men admitted to the Canadian Expeditionary Forces in 1915. I got free access to his attestation papers, which I could also download for free. When I looked into what it would cost to buy copies of his personnel file, I was a little irritated to see it was .40 a page for a file of 25-75 pages. But it didn't last long, because I discovered that all of these personnel files are being digitized in honor of the 100th anniversary of World War I. By next year, I'll be able to download this information for free.

More countries should be taking lessons from Canada. 

Nova Scotia Archives, Historical Vital Statistics

The Nova Scotia Archives website itself is average. Every time I go onto it I find myself in a new section for the first time, not sure how I got there, and not really where I intended to go. But that's not the website on which I want to focus.

Buried in that website is THIS treasure trove:

Not only can you search for birth, death, and marriage records... but you can search for them all on the same website... and you can see the originals!

I know, right?! Unheard of! But now that I've seen that someone has managed to do it, I can't for the life of me figure out what is wrong with the rest of the world.

Halifax Public Libraries

So my 3x great grandfather was a pretty amazing dude. He didn't let any sort of racial prejudice keep him from being a successful provider for his family. He lived a long life, fought the good fight, and after his death he actually had an obituary. And you wouldn't believe the struggle I've been through to find it.

I won't describe it, it's painful to my cerebrum.

Within 24 hours of contacting the Halifax Public Library and submitting my inquiry, they found the obituary I wanted. With incorrect information to search with, I might add. And not only are they going to send me the bill WITH the obituary, they're only gonna charge me $5 Canadian.

They didn't come at me with some nonsense about hiring a genealogist, or let's charge you $30 a year to be a part of our genealogy society first, or refuse to help me because I'm not a resident of their library system. Heck, I'm not even a resident of their country. But they gave my request their full attention until it was resolved, and they barely asked me for anything in return. And because of that, I'm going to give them a donation.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Sweet Spots: An Intro

The future of genealogy is all centered on one word: collaboration. For me, there could be no more exciting prospect. Being stingy with our time and resources--there is no room for this in the future of genealogy. And as I think about what this means for me as a researcher, I always come back to the same idea.

We each reach a point in our research where the information we need doesn't exist on the internet. And it seems like every time you turn around, there's someone who is totally willing to help you... for the right price.

You know who I'm talkin' about. The Drug Dealer Genealogists. Even talking to those people is gonna cost you something. And that's before you can even determine whether or not they can help you. They start by pushing services you don't even need OR want. But because they live in a place you can't go, and have access to one thing you DO want, they expect you to make it rain.

You want $30 an hour... to look up an obituary?
Sorry, forgot to take my stupid pills this morning

After having several experiences like this in the past week, I've decided to start a new series. Sweet Spots are the places and people you can turn to in a tight moment. If you need someone to look something up for you, they're on your side to help you find it. It can be a website, a historical society, a program at your local library--whatever or whomever helps you find what you need for the price you want to pay.

My research has already taken me across the globe, and I've amassed resources for communities in the US, Canada, and beyond. Expect to see me sharing those with you, and I invite you to share yours with us as well.

What is the best way to do research where you live? How do you volunteer to help other researchers? What are the low/no cost options for doing research in the places you're researching? Write it up and let us know!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Our Stories: You're awesome. Own it!

On the 1st of February, I attended my first major genealogy event. Unlock The Past (UTP) were bringing Scottish based genealogist Chris Paton & American genealogist Thomas MacEntee (from Geneabloggers & Hack Genealogy) down under for the 4th UTP Cruise. In conjunction with the cruise, there was also going to be day seminars in Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide, Hobart, Sydney & Perth. Brisbane was first off the rank on Saturday.  

Last year in August, I was lucky enough to attend to the launch of National Family History Month in Australia. However, my boyfriend came with me that day so I wasn’t all that nervous. This time I was braving it on my own and boy was I flipping out with excitement and nerves. Why was I nervous? It was my first event with other geneabloggers present, and I was expecting to be the youngest there. Plus Thomas MacEntee and Chris Paton are two of my genealogy idols, so there was that too. 

I braved the sea of ‘oldies’ and the day ended up being awesome and one of the best days I’ve ever had thus far!! I met Thomas, Chris and fellow Brisbane geneabloggers Alex Daw and Helen Smith. If you would like to read my very detailed blog post about the day, it’s linked here.

I was pretty much like this inside my head all day –

And by the end of the day, like this –

When I was walking out, I literally felt that now, I can brave any genealogy event! I feel like I can do anything and YOU CAN TOO! Yes, it can be intimidating being the youngest person in the room. Yes, they’ve probably been doing genealogy for a lot longer. But we love it too! So don’t let anything stop you from following your passion and love for genealogy. WE ARE the next generation of genealogists after all. 

What he said ^ :-D

I’m going to leave you with two comments I have received that I think apply to all of us young genies out there. 

“… enthusiasm is rubbing off on those of us who have been around for a long time and sometimes feel a bit disillusioned

“an inspiration to us oldies