Category Archives: Advice

Using FamilySearch

 

Today we’re bringing you a short introduction to some of the amazing contributions FamilySearch is making to the genealogical community online.  There are online tutorials available, but let’s first whet your appetite for this amazing research tool.

How can Family Search to help me? The Family History Library in Salt Lake is full of microfilms.  These microfilms represent filmed records from all over the world, including such things as birth records, court papers, marriages, family books, land records, and much more.  These microfilm are available and can be requested to be sent to a local Family History Center (FHC) for a nominal cost. Using these microfilms enables the researcher to broaden his or her research without too much travel.  The FamilySearch website is now putting many of these microfilms online for free, and a great number of those are linked to a search engine for faster access.

When I click the Search button what am I looking at? This first page is your access into digitized records.  You need to register first to be able to see any of the records, but it’s free.  Let’s discuss what you can do from here.

There are three distinct ways to research in FamilySearch:

  1. Search Engine.  Try entering name, dates, and location for an ancestor you are researching in the fields given at the top of the page.  Your next page will be a list of hits for that search, with closest matches listed at the top.  To look for a specific type of record, scroll down and click “Collections” in the box on the left.  This will open a smaller box with types of records hit for this search such as vital records or censuses.  These search hits represent only those microfilms which have been indexed and inputted into the search engine.  Be warned that not every microfilm or even every digitally reproduced microfilm is represented in the search engine.  FamilySearch invites volunteers to help index their digital records to make them even more accessible online through their indexing program.  When you open a hit, often it leads to an index page.  Towards the bottom of the page is a film number that the record was indexed from.  Take down this number and check the catalog to see if it is digitized, but browsable only, or available to order and send to the local FHC.
  2. Browse.  Many of the digitized microfilms are not represented yet in the search engine, but are online.  Think of these like using a microfilm on a traditional reader, but in the comfort of your own home.  From the search page, scroll down to the section “Browse by Location.”  This represents all the digitized films, but when you click on a place, you will see either a number (the number of records in this group) or the words “Browse Images.”  When you click on this it will either take you to a second page to narrow your search to a more specific location/record type or straight to the first page of the microfilm.
  3. Catalog.  If the record type you want is not in the digitized collection, check the online catalog to see if it has been microfilmed.  Remember that not everything you need has been microfilmed, but the FamilySearch staff does continue to search out records and ask permission to film new ones all the time.  A current project includes FamilySearch staff and volunteers who are working with the National Archives to digitize Civil War pensions.  To search the catalog, use a place name where your ancestor lived, and check the record types that come up.  If you found a film number from a hit off the search engine, enter it from this page as well.

You might also explore other tools from FamilySearch, such as the FamilySearch Wiki, Learning Center, Research Assistance, and more.  Technology today has made so much available to genealogists, and we appreciate all those groups who contribute their time and talents to helping us find our families.  Let us know what you’ve discovered to tell your family’s story!

 

 

Gather ye DNA while ye may

Ever since I first heard that my own mitochondrial DNA could be analyzed, and that those results could give me answers about my genetic ancestry, I just knew that I wanted to be part of this effort.

Initially, I felt the test was cost prohibitive. But then as luck would have it, AncestryDNA (www.ancestrydna.com) recently made it feasible.  For only $99 plus shipping and handling I purchased a ‘genome scanning’ test kit for collecting my DNA sample. Pretty neat, huh?

The test requirements were easy, simple and painless:

DNA TEST DIRECTIONS:  Read accompanying instructions.

Do not eat or drink for thirty minutes before test. Open tube, fill tube with saliva to the black line on the tube (not including bubbles!), add stabilizing solution, close tube, shake, and mail saliva to address in Utah in the enclosed, prepaid-padded envelope. Wait six to eight weeks for results.

I now have the test results back from the DNA laboratory in Utah.  I am learning about recent generations of my family and also about the generations that reach back many thousands of years. For example I have learned that my ancestors have been on the British Isles for millennia.  This fact has been determined with 98 percent certainty based on the commonality of my mitochondrial DNA compared with others of similar lineage or ethnicity. I have even been given the names and email addresses of those who with 98 percent certainty are my fourth, fifth or sixth cousins. These are people who have also taken the same DNA test that I did. As more and more individuals take part in submitting their DNA samples for genetic research, more family connections will be made and our family tree can grow exponentially.

It excites me that it is now possible to reach out to my ‘cousins’ comparing our family trees, documents and the stories that have been passed down through the years. I’m hoping to find others with a common ancestor. Interestingly enough, I have also learned that two percent of my DNA links me with indigenous Americans.  This information has kept me up at night, pondering who those ancestors could be!

Have you ever thought about taking your family genealogy to the next level? It is so doable now and can open up a world of information, interest and fun for the whole family.  Who do you think you are?  Now’s the time to find out. Let us know if you found anything surprising from DNA tests.

For more information on DNA and “deep genealogy”, check out the following web sites:

www.cyndislist.com/dna/

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genealogical_DNA_test

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-02-18/news/ct-met-dna-genealogy-tests-20130218_1_dna-test-results-genetic-adam-genealogy-hobbyists

 

Ancestral Signatures in Genealogy

 

Hold Still Grandpa!  As you may have already experienced in your own research, some of your ancestors rarely stayed in one place.  They migrated to new countries, moved from county to county, or the lure of the plains of the open West was too much to resist.  If you are fortunate, you can identify two families as the same if you find church records, obituaries, county histories, or deed records that state that the ancestor had been “late of…” somewhere you knew he was.  But if those records cannot be found, then what?

You may find some success in connecting migrating family by collecting your ancestors’ signatures.  Remember to make a citation of where each signature was taken, when it was taken, and under what circumstances.  Let’s see an example of signatures above.

In the picture above, how many men do you find named John/Jonathan Lewis?  All of these signatures were taken from men who lived sometime in Garrard County, Kentucky, from about 1800 to 1830.  Do you see more than three signatures?  Now compare that with the image below.

 

So many men named John!  Do you agree with the analysis?  I believe there are seven distinct signatures for seven different men.  What about number three, why include that?  It is a clerk’s copy of a “signature” from a deed, which means that the document I saw was not the original, but a handwritten copy by the county clerk.  Clerks will “sign” for the ancestor, but is rarely the ancestor’s actual signature.  Why include the clerk’s copy of number three?  The answer is that now you know that this man named Jonathan Lewis can be distinguished from the others because of his illiteracy.

When looking for ancestral John Hancocks, try these ideas:

  1. Search a variety of records.  The records above came from many different sources including deed records, marriage bonds, original wills, and chancery (equity) records.  Try also: military pensions and bounty lands, draft registrations, oaths of allegiance, coroner’s reports with jury signatures, voter registrations, court bonds, backs of photographs, letters, journals, marriage licenses, death certificates (signatures of the informants), occupational records, stocks and bonds, flyleafs in books, yearbooks and autograph books, family bibles, and many more.
  2. Try a variety of locations.  I mentioned that all these men lived at some time in Garrard County, Kentucky, but that isn’t where I found all of their signatures.  As they migrated to nearby counties, visited state courts, or moved west, I followed their migrations and picked up signatures along the way.
  3. Seek out records of family and friends.  Your ancestor may not be indexed by name in the record of an in-law or neighbor, but the record itself may contain your ancestor’s signature as a witness or bondsman.  You have to love those ancestors who worked as the court clerk, and personally signed every deed in the county book!
  4. Be aware of age and language differences.  Your ancestor’s signature can change over time.  The confident hand of a newly married 25 year-old man in a marriage bond may change from the shaky pension application for bounty land of the seventy year-old man.  Literate immigrant ancestors accustomed to the Cyrillic alphabet characters may be less “literate” in the Americanized Roman alphabet.  Watch for phonetic name spelling changes, and newly adopted Americanized names.
  5. Not all ancestors signed with an X.  A few of our predecessors were more creative with their “mark.”  While many illiterate persons signed with a simple X, some had a more personal notation, such as a specialized cross or first letter of their name.
  6. Check out a book on handwriting.  Your local library has books on handwriting comparisons if you are not sure you have a match between two names.  If that doesn’t work, ask your genealogical buddy for an extra set of eyes, or hire a handwriting expert.

Our ancestor’s lives were as complex, busy, and emotional as ours today and they left their marks in so many places.  Our job is to follow their trail and pick up those crumbs that together become the genealogical bread of life.  Tell us about a brick-wall breakthrough that you’ve had using signatures while following your ancestors through time.

How Should I Use Citations In Genealogical Research?

Have you ever begun a new project, gone online to research, or looked through old handwritten family records, and found conflicting facts such as different birthplaces or dates?  Which is true?  In order to judge which, if either, fact is likely to be true we want to find out where the fact came from.  The questions genealogists often ask when looking at a fact are:

  1. Who reported the fact – who was the “informant?” (The ancestor, the grandchild of the ancestor, or the neighbor, etc.?)
  2. How close was that person to the event? (Were they a witness or did they hear about that birth/death/burial second-hand?)
  3. Has this information been re-copied to this document, and can errors have been introduced in the transcription? (By a clerk, minister, indexer?)

Knowing the answer to these questions helps the researcher “weigh the evidence.”  True, it isn’t an infallible system, but it is a good place to start.

The Key: No researcher can begin to weigh the evidence and compare facts without actually knowing where the information came from.   A citation, properly crafted, holds the:

  • WHO …could have been the informant?
  • WHAT …type of record is it and does it have identifying registration numbers associated with it?
  • WHY …was the record created?
  • WHEN …was the record created?
  • WHERE …can I get this record again if I need to refer to it or find other relatives in surrounding records like it?

Citations are the hammer in the nail of effective research

Many of us remember making bibliographies or footnoting our research papers from high school or college, and know that there are standard citation styles.  You may have used the  Modern Language Association (MLA) style, the Chicago Manual of Style, or others.  If you are comfortable with a certain style, then use that.  It is better to use something, and use it consistently, than to not cite your sources at all. You might consider, however, a style beautifully geared specifically for genealogical research: Elizabeth Shown Mills’ book, Evidence Explained.  Regardless, the importance of citing every fact cannot be overstated!

Without knowing where a fact came from, how can you judge its reliability?  If you can’t be sure of your information, how effective can your research be?  When researching, keep notes – in research logs, in a genealogy software program, in a book you are writing.  No matter where you put the results of your research, remember to note the Who-What-Why-When-Where in a consistent format that will be easily understood by other researchers, and by yourself if you find you need to put the research away for now and come back to it months or years later.

Citations are worth the few minutes to note, and valuable for weighing any evidence that later conflicts with your findings.  You will thank yourself every time.

Write in and let us know how having or not having citations have changed your research, we’d love to hear from you!

 

My Grandmother’s Writing Desk: Made of wood and memories

 

This is a photograph of my maternal grandmother Frances’ desk.  She was fond of it and I have many memories of seeing my grandmother sitting on the stool in front of her desk and writing Christmas and birthday cards to her family.

My grandmother had the heart of a personal historian.  I remember her sitting at her desk, opening up her journal and making little notes in it – notes about the births, weddings, deaths and divorces in our family.  She also wrote notes about a particularly good game of bridge she had played or having the best score in a golf match.  She wrote get-well cards to her friends and planned trips to see her out-of-town family or friends, all while sitting at her desk.  She paid her bills and wrote donation checks to her local SPCA and to many other charities in the San Francisco Bay area.

When I was just five years old, I remember sitting at my grandmother’s desk. This desk was always paired with a round heavy stool.  I have happy memories of lying on top of the stool, spreading my arms out wide and spinning myself around and around until I was sick.

One interesting thing about this desk is the many hiding places that it contains.  I still gain pleasure from the idea that things can be hidden in the desk in plain sight but invisible to someone unfamiliar with the desk’s design. The hidden compartments are handy places to hide cash, love letters or perhaps even a secret diary – don’t tell anyone, though!

This desk also comes complete with a delicate, tiny brass key, which still works. 

 

 

As I recall being told, my grandfather bought this desk for my grandmother sometime between 1930 and 1940.  My grandmother used it every day until just a few weeks before her death. She died on February 3, 2008 at the age of 105.  After my grandmother’s death, my aunt sent the desk to me by freight truck all the way from San Francisco to Virginia.

When I received the desk, my first thought was to give it a good polishing.  I spent an afternoon cleaning and buffing the old desk.  Surprisingly, during the process, I found some things that had slid under the drawers and behind several of the compartments – a piece of carbon paper, instructions on how to do tubular crocheting, my grandmother’s 1955 Certificate of Members in the American National Red Cross, a recipe for baked fish and a few old canceled checks. Most pieces even show my grandmother’s beautiful and flowery penmanship.

Sometimes I think about having the desk refinished, but then I tell myself that all of the patina and provenance that goes along with the desk would surely disappear in the process.

I don’t think I will ever have my grandmother’s desk refinished. Today, as I look at the writing surface of the desk, I can still see faint traces of my grandmother’s handwriting in the wood’s surface. Her story and the love she had for her family is engrained in the surface of the desk she used for over sixty years.

I am so very grateful to now be in possession of my grandmother’s old desk along with all of its precious memories.  I hope that one of my daughters will want to keep this desk after I am gone.

Do you own a piece of furniture that is considered a family treasure and that holds memories for you?  I’d like to suggest that you write those memories down.  Future generations will enjoy knowing the history of that very special family heirloom.