Genealogy Blog

Hoosier Daddy? An Old Fashioned Soap Opera to Inspire Your Blog

04 Mar 2014

I frequently encourage genealogists to share their family history research with family members and others. In addition to sharing your research findings, people can learn about research techniques and resources from each other. Journals and popular genealogy magazines are a wonderful place to do this.

Blogs are another way to keep your family and friends in the information loop. One of the best ways to figure out what you want to do with your blog, and how you want to write is to look at blogs you enjoy reading. Take hints from them, and incorporate them into your own style.

Last fall you might have seen my Fireside Chat with my friend Michael Lacopo, a professional genealogist from Indiana. Michael recently made some interesting discoveries in his research. He decided to share his story with others, so he started a blog.

From the get-go one can see Michael’s sense of humor. He titled his blog Hoosier Daddy? His mother was adopted as an infant in1947. Her adoptive parents were always up front with her about the adoption, and told her what they knew about his birth parents. As he got older and started his genealogical research, Michael’s interest was piqued. He wanted to find his mother’s birth parents for her. Thus the name, Hoosier Daddy?

The blog starts with the beginning of his search in the 1980s. He writes in a conversational style. No scholarly discussion here. Yet he is still clear in his writing, explaining the history, and taking the reader not only through his research process, but his thought process as well. Reading through the posts, one feels a part of the story.

We often hear about putting the family in historical context. Michael easily brings us into the story, making us care about the people without making up stories. Take the following passage about his great-grandparents from his post Grandma, Part I:




“The marriage between Volney and Gracie Mae was apparently a monumental mismatch. Married just three months before the birth of their first daughter, Clara Belle, in 1909, it was probably a union that neither entered into with great joy. He was twenty-six years old, an athlete, a musician and a notorious ladies man. She was nineteen years old and pregnant. Volney had an eye for the young girls, and “he had a horse which he rode all over the country courting several girls at the same time.” Granted, when Volney met eighteen-year-old Gracie she shared her home with six sisters, but she was the one who caught his eye, because after all “she was considered to be the smartest and prettiest of the Hanks girls.” Unfortunately, marriage and family did nothing to change Volney’s ways, and everything to change Gracie’s.”

Reading Michael’s posts is like following an old-fashioned soap opera, or other well-crafted television show. You just can’t wait for the next installment to arrive!. Read Hoosier Daddy, but start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). And hopefully you will get some inspiration to start writing your own family’s story.


5 Tips for Attending a Conference

04 Feb 2014

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m here in Salt Lake City this week for RootsTech. It is a large conference, and Mocavo is one of the sponsors. We will have a booth in the exhibit hall, so please be certain to stop by and say hello to us. And, as we announced last week, we will be offering quick research consultations in our booth each day, so please take advantage (see Consultations at RootsTech for more details). I would like to offer you a few tips for attending a genealogy conference.




1. This one is a bit tardy for you if you going to RootsTech, but one of the things I like to do when attending a conference is to arrive early or stay a few days afterwards. This gives me an opportunity to take advantage of the research repositories in the area, and to be a bit of a tourist and sight-see. And I usually talk a few friends into doing the same thing, so we have a great time together!

2. I am always astonished at the number of people I see at conferences wearing heels. And this goes for men as well as women. Now, most men at a conference do not wear 4-inch stiletto heels, but men’s dress shoes often come with a small heel that can be just as irritating. Much of your time at a conference will be spent walking on cement floors, even if it does have a small bit of carpeting on it. Wearing sensible shoes with lots of support will make your life much easier. And comfortable shoes with support can still be tasteful and stylish too.

3. Most people review the schedule in advance to see which sessions they would like to attend. I suggest going a step further and compare the sessions to the map of the venue. Classrooms in convention centers can be spread far apart from each other. Look at which sessions are in close proximity at the same time, and in the periods immediately before and after. This will allow you to minimize walking by attending sessions that are close to one another.  And knowing what Is nearby can allow you to move to a different session you are interested in if the one you are in does not meet your needs.

4. To take the best advantage of your time in the exhibit hall, leave a session a few minutes early. As long as you do it extremely quietly, with the least amount of disruption, the speaker likely will not mind. What is troublesome for us is when someone sitting in the middle of the second row gets up and makes a huge ruckus when leaving. If you place to leave early, sit at the end of a row near the entrance to the classroom. That way you can depart quickly and easily causing minimal disruption.

5. Many conferences now have apps for your smartphone or tablet. Make sure you download it. The apps provide you with easy access to a great deal of information, including session schedules and maps, exhibitor lists, exhibit hall maps, etc. If you don’t want it taking up room on your phone for a year, just delete it once the conference is over. If you do keep the app from year to year, be certain to check for any updates prior to the next year’s conference so you don’t experience any difficulties.

A Challenge for 2014: Three Steps for Sharing Your Family History

07 Jan 2014

So we are off on a New Year. And, as we discussed last week, I hope you have put together some goals for your genealogical research in 2014. I’ve been working on mine, and BOY will 2014 be a busy one for me!

One of the things I think is very important is sharing your family history. I have heard way too many stories of genealogists whose life work is accumulated in file cabinets, boxes, and bookshelves, only to have it tossed out by family members after the genealogist passes away. This is a true tragedy.

One of the major problems is genealogists who feel they can’t share their research until they are “done.” Let me tell you from my many years of experience that only rarely will you ever be “done.” There will always be a new line, a new question, additional evidence, etc.

The moral of the story is, don’t wait to be “done.” Share as you go. Put together bits and pieces of the family story into smaller stories. As you put more and more of these stories together, you can eventually put together the bigger picture of your family.




Take these three simple steps to start sharing your research with your family so your work won’t be lost.

1. Format

Decide what form you want your sharing to take. The world of the Internet has given us many new options for sharing. Select a family to look at and review the materials you have for that family. Do you have written stories? Original documents? Images of records? Oral interviews? Here are some formats you can utilize:

  • Monograph This is a traditional way of publishing. Write up your family in a traditional genealogical sketch format. You can focus on a single family unit (parents children, and grandchildren), or expand it to include more of the lineage. You can have these printed at your local copy shop relatively inexpensively, and give them to the family.
  • Blog Creating a blog is very simple nowadays. In addition to sharing information about your family, you can write about your research process. Even distant family members will be able to easily follow your research, and it makes it even easier for them to find you and get in touch to share research.
  • Slide Show/Video If you have lots of images, video, and/or oral interviews, you can easily create a slide show or simple video to share. Be certain when putting these materials together that you are not violating anyone’s copyright.


2. Schedule

Put your project into your calendar. Scheduling time to work on it on a regular basis will make it easier to accomplish. You won’t have to constantly remember and try to fit it into your schedule once it is filled with other items.


3. Review

Periodically review your progress. This is even more important if you have multiple projects going at the same time.  Periodic reviews will also ensure you make headway on each task. You can reevaluate your project and guarantee success.

Follow these steps and you will be surprised how quickly you will make progress. And as you finish one project, you will be able to start on the next one.

For 2014 I would like to give you a challenge. Pick at least one project. One story. And start writing it up and putting it together to share with your family. Try it for at least a few months, and see how much progress you make. Your family will be so grateful to hear the stories of their history!

Four Steps to Creating the Perfect Holiday Gift for Your Family

11 Dec 2013

Hoping to be the supreme gift giver this holiday season? Use these four simple steps to hone your skills and get off to the right start when creating the perfect holiday gift to celebrate your family and its unique history. Also, if you’re running out of time to make a gift this holiday season, here are some extra gift ideas that are guaranteed to excited family members and friends.

4 Step Holiday Gift Giving guide-2

Killing History Featured in Huffington Post

14 Nov 2013

This week was an exciting one for us here at Mocavo. On Wednesday I had my first byline in the Huffington Post. I wrote about the dangers of not teaching our children to read and write in cursive.  It was published in the HuffPo ”Impact” section, where you can “discover worthy causes, find ways to take action, and read truly inspiring stories. Hear from social good experts and share how you can make an impact.” Read Killing Cursive is Killing History. If you like it, or even if you disagree with it, please leave a comment. Let’s see if we can start a discussion about the impact of cursive writing on our history, and our future!



Happy National Punctuation Day!

24 Sep 2013

Today is National Punctuation Day. To celebrate, we’ll start with a little pop quiz. Which of the following is properly constructed:

  • John Smith and Mary (Eaton) Draper moved their family to Nebraska in the 1870’s.
  • Rufus Draper (1800-1841) and Mary “Polly” Hemenway (1801-1879) were married in Dedham about 1825.
  • I am looking for information on the Moody’s and the Hayden’s in Hadley.

The answer is: none of them. Each one of them contains punctuation errors.

In the first sentence, an apostrophe is incorrectly used to express the decade 1870s. Apostrophes are used to indicate a contraction or the possessive. Neither of these is the case here. When indicating a decade, one simply adds the letter s to the end.

In the second sentence, a hyphen is incorrectly used instead of an en-dash. Hyphens join two words together (twentieth-century). An en-dash is used for a range of numbers, including dates (1800–1841). And an em-dash is used to separate phrases (I went to the cemetery — final resting place of generations of family members).

The third sentence is another common problem among genealogists. When referring to all of the members of a family communally, one says “the Smiths.” One doesn’t use an apostrophe. Once again, the apostrophe indicates the possessive, and you are trying to indicate the plural.


Question Mark


Punctuation is very important. Punctuation marks are used to clarify the meaning of what we write. How many times have you heard people say that it is difficult to communicate electronically because people misunderstand what others are saying? Part of the problem is the lack of use of proper punctuation.

When it comes to genealogy, punctuation is critical. Missing punctuation marks can completely change the meaning of the words. It can also set you off on a difficult research path. Those who have researched in documents from the eighteenth-century or earlier are familiar with this problem. In this time period, punctuation was not used as it is today, causing difficulty in interpretation.

For example, let us look at the following example:

“Item, I leave to my children John William Thomas and Mary the residue of my estate.”

How many sons are being mentioned? It could be one, two, or three. The testator might have named a single son (John William Thomas), or possibly two sons (John William and Thomas or John and William Thomas), or possibly three sons (John, William, and Thomas). Without the use of commas it is impossible to tell.

There is a trend today to use punctuation marks any way we like. Even worse, younger people do not know how to use punctuation at all. As a genealogist, failing to use proper punctuation not only casts doubt on one’s ability to clearly communicate, it also casts doubt on one’s ability to research. So, celebrate National Punctuation Day by learning more about how to properly use punctuation marks in your writing — whether it is online or in print.

From The Mail Bag: Interview Questions

01 Dec 2012

It’s the season for family gatherings, which is why I was inspired to write a blog post suggesting helpful tips for taking oral histories during the holiday season. After reading my post “Tips for taking Oral Histories” one of our Mocavo Community members, Jean Henley, was prompted to ask an important question:

“The holidays are my favorite time of year because I get to talk to so many people that I haven’t had the chance to catch up with for a while. I also think it’s a great time to learn about my family history from my relatives, however, I never seem to know which questions are the right ones to ask. Any suggestions for questions to ask?”

Well, Jean, here are five more helpful tips for your family interview and some sample questions to help get you started! These conversations are a great way to catch up on some family research and can help you fill in unknown facts while offering clues for further research.


  1. Approach your interview as a conversation. Relatives may relax with a conversational tone, thus will be more willing to share personal details and memories.
  2.  Start with an icebreaker question to get the ball rolling. This question should be more informal to help ease your relative into the conversation and make them feel more comfortable for the duration.
  3.  Bring sentimental family heirlooms or mementos (such as photographs, documents, old trinkets, etc.) that relate to family members or occasions you will be discussing. These items will help to jog your relative’s memory and will help create a richer conversation. You can also use this as an opportunity to ask your relative to identify the people and places in photographs.
  4. Record both questions and answers throughout the duration of the interview. When writing notes, make sure you use a pencil. Avoid writing on photographs or documents as much as possible, but if it is necessary to annotate them, use a pencil.
  5. After the interview, write your relative a thank you note and share your notes, recording, and/or transcription of the conversation. Seeing their personal story documented will help them see the value of your research and will serve as a physical thank you for their time.

Interview Questions

Ice Breaker Questions

  1. How did your family celebrate the holiday season when you were a child?
  2. How long have you lived in your home state?
  3. How many homes have you lived in?
  4. What were some of your favorite hobbies as a child?
  5. What was a typical family dinner when you were a child?

Basic Questions

  • What is your full name? Do you know why your parents chose that name? Were you named after a family member? Do you have any nicknames?
  • When and where were you born? What are the names of your brothers and sisters?  When and where were they born?
  • Where did you live as a child? What was your house like? What is your favorite childhood memory?
  • What are the names of your grandparents? Where did they live their adult lives and what did they do for a living?
  • Who is the oldest relative that you remember as a child? Where did they live? Did they have a nickname?
  • Do you have any special stories about your parents, grandparents, or other relatives?
  • Do you have any special family heirlooms or photographs of sentimental value that have been passed down through your family?
  • Did you ever get married? What is your husband/wife’s name? When and where were you married? What is your favorite wedding memory?
  • What is one of your favorite family traditions that you received from your parents or grandparents?
  • What advice would you like to offer future generations?

I hope that these questions help you find the information you are searching for and we want to wish you all a very Happy Holidays from Mocavo!


Expert Tip: The 50-Yard Dash

04 Nov 2012

Most people know the difference between the 50-yard dash and the 100-yard dash. But when it comes to grammar, more people have trouble with the different dashes (and hyphens). When sharing your ancestry search results, use them properly so you look your best. There are three different marks that are often confused: hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes.

Hyphens (-)are used to connect words, often to make them into a modifier. There are no spaces between the hyphen and words it connects. For example, one lived in the twentieth century, but drove a twentieth-century automobile.

When writing about a range of numbers (dates or otherwise),  the en dash (–) is the appropriate punctuation. In genealogy, this is often used to express a range of years, such as 1830 – 1910. It is slightly longer than a hyphen, and is the same with as the letter “n” (thus giving rise to the name en dash).

An en dash should be both  preceded and followed by a single space. Finally there is the em dash (—). This is the punctuation one uses to express a phrase within a longer sentence. For example: John would be found at his desk—no matter the time of day or night—whenever an emergency occurred. Like the hyphen, there should be no spaces between the words and the em dash. Remember these tips when conducting and recording your genealogy search results.

Expert Tip: Searching For Names

21 Oct 2012

Sometimes when searching for names in databases, you can’t find your person no matter how hard you look. Part of the problem can be spelling variations. These could be transcriber errors, indexing errors, phonetic variations. Metaphone and soundex searches can help with some of this, but if the consonants get out of whack you can still have problems. And if the handwriting in the original was difficult to read, this can make it even more difficult in a digital index. One way to get new ideas on spelling variations to check is to enlist the help of a genealogist friend (or even better a non-genealogist friend). It should be someone who is not familiar with the family you are researching. Give them a piece of paper and  a pencil and ask them to write a name for you. Don’t spell it for them. Just say it. You will be amazed at the variations you might find if you ask several friends to do this for you. Then go back and check their variations for your names in the databases.