Genealogy Blog

Happy Holidays: Time to Get Working on Your Gifts For This Year

22 Aug 2013

How quickly time flies. It seems like only yesterday that we were raising champagne toasts to the New Year. And this Christmas is only 124 days (just 4 months) away. Even worse, Hanukkah is only 96 days away (only 3 months)! Now, before you slap me, realize that I have very good reasons for bringing this up. How many times have you thought “Wouldn’t it be great to give the family some of our genealogy as a holiday gift this year?” And how many times have you quickly realized that by the time you had this idea, it was too late to actually do something about it for this year’s holidays? And on New Year’s Eve, you resolved to start earlier this time, only to fall into the same rut again.

This year, be different! Start working NOW so you can have something real put together by the time the holidays hit in November and December.  After all, realistically, if you are planning for Christmas, you have the same deadline as those targeting Hanukkah, since you likely won’t get tons done after Thanksgiving. Start now with these easy steps and you will be much more at ease in December.

1. What do you want the gift to be?

  • There are so many different things you can do, now is the time to decide what your project will be so you can focus on it. Here are some suggestions:
  • A small book of genealogical sketches, or a compiled genealogy with several generations of a line or two.
  • A book with images from your family photograph collection.
  • A slide show of your family photographs.
  • A video of interviews with family members.


2. Define the Steps

What steps will you need to take to create your gift? Don’t worry about putting them in order yet. Just do a mind dump and figure out everything that needs to be done. It is easier to get started if you know what needs to be done. Let’s take a small book or booklet on your family. For that you need to:

  • Write the sketches.
  • Research.
  • Complete writing.
  • Have sketches proofread and edited.
  • Format.
  • Select printer.
  • Have books printed and bound.


3. Create a Timeline

Now is the time to put your list from above in order. Figure out when each piece has to be done, and estimate how long it will take do it. Remember that some things you may be working on concurrently. For example, you may be looking at possible printers while you are writing. Also, really look to be certain you are doing things in the correct order. You might be tempted to “complete the research” before you start writing. It is actually better to write first. This will show you where the holes are where more research needs to be done.


4. Get moving!

Once you have the timeline, get to work. Figure that you only have twelve or so good weeks to get your project done for the holidays. That will give you enough time to have the final product, wrap it, and put it under the tree or next to the menorah.

And to put you in a festive mood to get started here are a couple of my favorite holiday songs: The Chanukah Song (We Are Lights) by Stephen Schwartz, and Happy Holidays, sung by Andy Williams and his brothers along with the Osmond brothers in 1966 (check out how young Donnie is!).

Andy Williams Osmond Brothers

Sources and Information and Evidence, Oh My!

20 Aug 2013

When getting started in genealogy, one quickly gets surrounded by tons of terminology. Some of it can get quite confusing. Even researchers with a bit of experience can quickly become confused. Nowhere can terminology become more confusing than in the area of sources.

As researchers, we are dependent on our sources, but many of us get confused about what sources really are seven important concepts for you to understand. Once you have grasped these, you will more easily be able to communicate you work to others. There are three important terms that we use: sources, information, and evidence to do this.

Sources are the actual materials we work with. Books, manuscripts, diaries, journals, newspapers, recordings, databases, online images, etc. Sources are put into one of two categories: original or derivative. Original sources are those that are in the condition in which they were created. For example, if you go to the county courthouse and examine deeds, those are original records. If you consulted a published book that contained abstracts or transcriptions of the deeds, you would be using a derivative source.

Derivative sources are those that have been created from original materials and presented in a different format. This includes abstractions, transcriptions, indexes, etc. Keep in mind that not derivative does not mean bad, it just means that it is not the original source, and any time sources are manipulated, problems can creep in. Some derivative sources, in fact, can be as good as the original, such as a database of images of original records.

There is a major difference between sources and the information contained within them. Information is the data that you get from the source. The information itself is considered either primary or secondary. Primary information comes from someone who had firsthand knowledge of the data being recorded. The mother of a child, for example, recording the birth of her baby. Secondary information comes from someone who has secondhand (or thirdhand, fourthand, etc.) knowledge of the data being recorded. Family tradition, for example, is secondary information.

Evidence is the interpretation of information. One can get three different types of evidence form information: direct, indirect, and negative. Direct evidence answers your research question directly. It does not matter if the evidence confirms your theory or proves it wrong, it is still direct evidence. Indirect evidence adds information, but does not conclusively answer the question by itself. The third type is negative evidence — what we can infer from the fact that there was no information at all relevant to the research question in the source consulted.


Proof Flowchart


From the primary and secondary information contained in original and derivative sources, researchers obtain direct, indirect, or negative evidence to help them answer research questions and prove or disprove theories. Without all three, we would not get far in our research.

Know Your Sources

19 Aug 2013

Knowing and understanding your sources is a very important part of genealogy research. And different versions of the same source can provide different pieces of information. It is critical to know what you are working with, and to be certain to cite it properly. Not only that, if you are looking at a source citation in an article or book, be certain when you go looking for the original that you examine exactly the version that the author did, otherwise the information may differ greatly. As an example of this, I would like to discuss a valuable resource called New England Marriage Prior to 1700.

Clarence Almon Torrey was a noted genealogist, contributing editor of The American Genealogist (TAG) and a fellow of the American Society of Genealogists. He spent decades in the library of the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), combing through books and journals in the collections for mention of any couple in New England who was married prior to 1700. Starting by taking notes onto scraps of paper. Eventually he copied the information onto sheets of paper, listing couples alphabetically by the groom’s surname, include the names of bride and groom, dates and places of marriage (when known), names of parents or family members when known, places of origin when known, and the sources for that information. He put the sheets into post-bound volumes. By the time of his death, it would comprise twelve volumes with more than 500 pages in each volume. These volumes were left to NEHGS at his death.

In 1985, NEHGS and the Genealogical Publishing Company published the first print version of Torrey. For space purposes, the source information was left out. The listing of just the names, dates, and places still took 848 pages. To this was added an index to the names of the brides and grooms. The index was more than 160 pages long. It was reprinted six times between 1985 and 1997. The introduction was updated in 1992, and minor corrections were made in each reprinting.

One of the detriments of Torrey’s work is that it he stopped working on it in 1960 (he died in 1962). Nothing published after that time is included. Noted genealogist Melinde Lutz Sanborn, herself now a fellow of the American Society of Genealogists and co-editor of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, published the first Supplement to Torrey’s New England Marriages Prior to 1700 with GPC in 1991. This 62-page supplement included source citations, a bibliography, and an index. Melinde and GPC published the Second Supplement to Torrey’s New England Marriages Prior to 1700 in 1995.


Torrey CD


In 2001, I oversaw publication of the first digital version of Torrey. It was published on CD-ROM, and was the first version to include the source citations and bibliography of sources that he had consulted. This CD-ROM contained only Torrey’s work itself, not the supplements. In 2003, Melinde and GPC published a Third Supplement to Torrey’s New England Marriages Prior to 1700. This 286-page supplement also incorporated the information in the first and second supplements.

In 2011, NEHGS published the first complete print version of Torrey’s original New England Marriages Prior to 1700. This version (published in both hardcover and softcover) contains a complete transcription of the information in his manuscript, the source citations, a bibliography of all of the sources consulted, and a complete index to every name in the manuscript. All together, the three volumes comprise more than 2,300 pages. In 2012, NEHGS published this version as one of their online databases.

Needless to say, it is absolutely critical to look at the same version of Torrey and its supplements that an author cites. Otherwise, you run the risk of missing critical information that can at the least delay and possibly mislead your research.

News and Blog Posts for Genealogists, August 16, 2013

16 Aug 2013

This week we have some interesting

We start out with breaking news this morning about the remains of Richard III. The BBC is reporting that a British court has allowed for a judicial review of the plans to re-inter the bones at Leicester Cathedral. The Cathedral has already started a £1 million construction project for a tomb, and the city of Leicester is working on a £4 million visitor center. But the Plantagenet Alliance filed suit saying that the remains should be interred in York Minster because that is what Richard wanted. Read more in Richard III: King’s Reburial Row Goes to Judicial Review.


Bath Abbey Bodies BBC


Dick Eastman posted another story out of Britain this week. Bath Abbey, itself dating back to 1499, was constructed on the remains of a Norman cathedral. Over the course of the past three centuries, it is estimated that up to 6,000 bodies have been interred under the stone floors of the abbey. This is cause major structural problems that threaten the future of the building. Even worse, they discovered that Victorian-era construction uncovered the problem more than a century ago. Their solution: churn the graves to break them up and make it easier to lay down a new floor. Read more in Thousands of Bodies Under Bath Abbey Threaten Its Stability.

The U.S. National Archives (NARA) has been holding an annual genealogy fair since 2005. After eight years, NARA is conducting its first Virtual Genealogy Fair. This two-day event will feature genealogy experts from NARA as well as from the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service. Check the NARA website for more details.

Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, has an interesting piece this week about divorce records. Specifically she uses an example from Amelia County, Virginia, to discuss the decree nisi. This is a provisional decision. It will take effect unless something happens. Find out more about this in The Decree Nisi.

Finally this week we have a video post from Thomas MacEntee and his new Hack Genealogy website. This week he had a very interesting piece about passwords. Specifically, he has a trick for creating a different password for every website you need. You can do it on the spot, and always remember the password. Find out his technique in New Video: The Password Trick.

An Excellent Addition to Your Reference Shelf: The Craft of Research

15 Aug 2013

When I was attending the Institute for Genealogical and Historical Research earlier this summer, I took a stroll through the campus store. One of my friends pointed to a book they had on sale and told me I just had to have it. I bought it on her recommendation, and am glad I did.


The Craft of Research


The book is the thirdd edition of The Craft of Research, by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Columb, and Joseph M. Williams. It is published by the University of Chicago Press, the same publisher as The Chicago Manual of Style. Although geared towards college students, it has much good advice for genealogical researchers as well.

The book is divided into five sections:

  1. Research, Researchers, and Readers
  2. Asking Questions, Finding Answers
  3. Making a Claim and Supporting It
  4. Planning, Drafting, and Revising
  5. Some Last Considerations

Each section is further divided into individual chapters. Not every chapter will be entirely applicable, but most will offer some level of assistance.

The prologue to section three, for example, says:

“Once you’ve accumulated a stack of notes, photocopies, and summaries, don’t keep piling them up until they spill off your desk (or you lose track of them on your hard drive). It’s time to impose some order on what you’ve found. . . You need a . . . powerful principle of organization, one based not on your data but on the solution to your problem and the logic of its support. That support takes the form of a research argument.”

This is exactly what we as genealogists do.

Each chapter is further subdivided into brief explanations of concepts. There are charts and diagrams to illustrate some points. Many chapters also have Quick Tips. These are checklists, tools, and tricks for different concepts. One of my favorites is “Qualifying Claims to Enhance Your Credibility.” This tip reminds you to use qualifiers in statements you make. A common genealogical example would be:

Since John and Mary (Smith) Doe were the only family leaving records in Springfield during the years surrounding her birth, they are most likely the parents of Jane. There remains the possibility that a transient Doe family might have come in and out of town during this period without leaving any permanent records.

The qualifiers most likely, and the second sentence show the reader that you understand that there is another possibility. No matter how unlikely, it is still possible. Acknowledging this makes the reader trust you and your research more.

The Craft of Research, Third Edition, is a valuable addition to your reference shelf. It is available in both print and electronic versions. It is available from a wide variety of online and brick-and-mortar booksellers, and the prices vary from seller to seller, so (as Booth, Columb, and Williams would say) do your research wisely!

Tips from the Sound of Music on Reading Old Documents

14 Aug 2013


Images of original records are becoming more widely available every day. Archives and repositories are actively scanning materials and putting them online. Being able to read and understand them will help you move your research in new directions. It doesn’t matter whether the documents are from the 16th century or the 20th, you can learn to read and understand them. Here are three tips, with advice from the Rogers and Hammerstein’s classic The Sound of Music, to help you.

1. Read the Document Straight Through

When looking at a document for the first time, the temptation is to jump around looking for names, places, and other significant terms. This can actually work against you. You might miss significant information. Julie Andrews has been telling you for years “Let’s start at the very beginning; a very good place to start.” Read the document straight through. Even if you don’t understand some of the words, you stand less of a chance of missing anything.

2. Understand the Hand

As Ms. Andrews also says “When you read you begin with ABC . . .” Those of us over the age of forty who grew up in America learned either the Palmer Method (taught through the 1950s and 19602) or the Zaner-Bloser Method (popular in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s). But there have been numerous hands through the centuries. The first step is to discover when a document was created. Then research what hands were in popular use at the time. Then you can look at alphabet books to help you read the handwriting.

3. Transcribe the Document

The best way to understand the document is to transcribe it as you read. Read through word by word, writing the words as you move through the document. If you can’t read a word, mark it with an underline or capital X for each letter you can’t read. You can go back and look at these later. As you read through the document, you will get more familiar with the handwriting of the scribe who created the document, and you may be able to recognize more and more letters as you go along. It may be frustrating as you move through the document, and on more than one occasion you will want to express your frustration as the nuns did “How do you solve a problem like this writing? How do you read a word and pin it down?” but if you keep going, it will get easier for you.

The biggest key to success is the same as the way the casts of the musical and the movie versions of The Sound of Music got nominated for and won so many Tony Awards and Oscars: practice, practice, practice. The more you repeat this process, the more adept you will get at reading and understand original records.

Historic Landmarks as a Research Tool

13 Aug 2013

This past week, the city of Boston seized a neglected property in the Mattapan section. It is in a less affluent section of the city, so one might not be entirely surprised, thinking this sort of thing happens all the time, especially in a city as large as Boston. While that may be true, this property has specific historical significance. And the story of this property might help you in your own research.

The property is the Fowler-Clark Farm. The farm includes a house, stable, and a half acre of undeveloped property. The stable dates from around 1860, but the house itself was built at least between 1786 and 1806, and possibly earlier. The process of the seizure of the property has taken more then seven years, and that process created a wonderful paper trail.

In 2005, the city started the process of getting historic landmark status designated for the farm. Not much of colonial Boston remains standing today. Much of it was destroyed by fires, especially the Great Fire of 1876. In addition, much was lost in the name of public improvement. The farm is located in Mattapan, a section of Dorchester. Dorchester was not a part of the city until 1870 when it was annexed to Boston. Until annexation, Dorchester was very rural and agricultural whose farms produced food for the city. After annexation, many of the large landowners subdivided and developed their properties into small plots for homes for the burgeoning population of the city.

Back in 2005 a study was commissioned on the Fowler-Clark property to support a declaration of landmark status. The report includes a section on the historic significance of the area and the farm itself. It includes source citations for primary and secondary sources that were used to trace the history of the farm as well as Dorchester and Boston.


Fowler Clark Farm

Mural of the Fowler-Clark Farm painted inside the farmhouse. From the Boston Globe.


Tracing the history of the farm also shows a bit of genealogy. It shows the original owner Stephen Fowler passing it to his grandson Samuel in 1786. From Samuel it passed to his wife Mary, then to their son Samuel, Jr., who passed 1820. Part of it is then sold at auction, and part goes to his siblings and their heirs. From there it went to the Baker family  and the Sanderson family in 1824. In 1837 it was sold to the Clark family, in whose possession it remained for more than a century. In 1940 it was sold to the Millers, who sold it in 1941 to Jorge and Ida Epstein. Ownership was transferred to a trust in Ida Epstein’s name. The property was seized from the trust last week.

When researching your family, look for historical properties in the area. Of special interest should be the ones that have received landmark status. Looking at the paperwork generated for the historical commissions will give you a better understanding of the area, and provide you with resources that they used to compile the report which may be of assistance to you in your research. You can read the Fowler-Clark Farm report online as an example of what you might find.

DNA Testing: 23andMe is Top of the Class

10 Aug 2013

There are a number of places for genealogists to get their DNA tested. Several years ago I had mine done. This past year, I had it tested with a different company to see what the results would be. Advances in testing over the years would make it likely that there would be differences.

23andMe (the name comes from the 23 chromosomes you get from each parent) did the testing this time. I must say, I am very pleased with the results overall. The test itself was extremely simple. You order it and pay for it online, and a test package is sent to you. I spent a few moments filling a tube with saliva. Then packaged it up in the included envelope. A few weeks later you will receive an email that your results are ready.

The 23andMe website has been dramatically remodeled, and I find it very easy to use. The Ancestry Composition section shows you what percentage of your DNA comes vrom various populations around the world. My standard estimate states that I am 99.7% European, 0.1% Middle Eastern and North African, and 0.2% unassigned (other populations include Sub-Saharan African, South Asian, East Asian & Native American, and Oceanian). You can also get conservative or more speculative estimates that might change your numbers slightly. Unassigned represents DNA that is found in a very wide area and cannot be narrowed down further. Each of those groups can be subdivided further. For example, I have 8.1% British and Irish ancestry and 2.3% Italian.




One interesting test result was the percentage of Neanderthal DNA that I carry. It is known that Homoneanderthalis interbred with homo sapiens. Although the Neanderthals went extinct about 30,000 years ago, the DNA survives today through the interbreeding. Traces of it exist in all modern humans outside of Africa. Each of us carries between 1 and 4 percent. I am in the 62nd percentile with 2.8%.

On area shows the countries where people with sections of DNA close to my own appear. In my case, the top five countries are France, Ireland, Poland, Ukraine, and Sweden. Now, I have traced almost every single branch of my family back to Europe. I know that I have ancestors in France and Ireland. There is no evidence to support any ancestors from Poland, Ukraine, or Sweden, so I’m not certain where this comes from unless it is people who migrated more than 500 years ago.

Once your results come back, 23andMe checks for relations based on identical sections of DNA. My profile shows 984 people in the database are related to me. These individuals are grouped into categories. Close relatives are first cousins or closer (siblings, parents, etc.). I have none of those (not surprising to me). The next group is 2nd and 3rd cousins. There are 53 of those in the database. This is an intriguing number to me. I have 58 second cousins and 63 third cousins (with likely an additional 5-10 third cousins that have not yet been identified). This means that more than 40% of my second and third cousins have been tested. That would appear to be a large percentage. The largest group is 711 people who are 4th cousins. There are 220 people who are more distantly related.

One of the nice things about 23andMe as opposed to other genealogical websites is that they also test for health issues. These range from minor to major. It is important to remember, that many of these are indicators, and are based on averages. For example, one indicator said I likely had brown eyes, which is true. Another shows I have decreased odds of male pattern baldness. More serious ones show that I do not carry the gene that makes me less susceptible to getting HIV. One of the most serious, however, is the presence of the gene for Alzheimer’s. You even have to answer several times that you actually want to know whether you carry it.

I cannot recommend 23andMe more highly. The testing is excellent, and goes beyond the ordinary services from the usual genealogy results. And, unlike some services, you can download the raw data from your test results at any time so you can upload them to other databases for comparisons and connections. Give it a try, you will be surprised what you find. It may be the best $99 you spend this year.

What kind of genealogical research have you done this summer?

10 Aug 2013

We asked and you answered! Last week we asked what kind of genealogical research have you done this summer? At least 57% of you have researched online and 17% of you were able to get to a repository to research. We hope that you will be able to continue to sneak in some research time throughout the rest of the summer and we are looking forward to helping you every step of the way. Don’t forget to check out our bi-monthly newsletter or Facebook page to take the next poll and see how you compare with your fellow genealogists.


News and Blog Posts for Genealogists, August 9, 2013

09 Aug 2013

Following are some recent news stories and blog posts of interest to genealogists. I hope you find them as engaging and informative as I do.

Back in 1964, newborn Paul Fronczak was kidnapped by a woman pretending to be a nurse. More than a year later, police returned him to his parents. Or so they thought. Recent DNA testing has proven that Paul is not the child of the Fronczaks. He does not yet know who he is, and an investigation is being reopened. You can read more about how DNA will help Paul determine who he really is, and possibly help identify where the real Paul Fronczak is, in Man Discovers He Wasn’t Kidnapped Baby; FBI Reopens 49-Year-Old Mystery on CNN.

Copyright laws were put in place to insure that content creators, such as authors and composers, would get fair compensation for their work, and to stimulate the creation of such work. Unfortunately, as the twentieth century progressed, more corporations (such as movie and television studios and record companies) got into the business of creating content. Their movement to change copyright law to protect their profits has had devastating effects on creativity. A recent story in The Atlantic shows that a book published when Chester Arthur (the 21st president) was in office has a greater possibility of still being in print that one published under the administration of Ronald Reagan (the 40th president). Read more in The Hole in our Collective Memory: How Copyright Made Mid-Century Books Vanish.

Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, has an interesting post this week about probate. Using an example from Wisconsin, she shows where to look when the information is missing. There is likely a very good reason for it to not be there. Discover more in The Missing Term in the Will.


Congressional Cemetery Goats


Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C., dates back more than two hundred years. In addition to 90 former members of Congress, it is the final resting place of a vice-president, a Supreme Court Justice, J. Edgar Hover, Matthew Brady, and John Philip Sousa among others. Long neglected, there is now a preservation group dedicated to cleaning it up and preserving the integrity of the monuments. This week they have an old-school project going on: they are cleaning up a particularly rocky and rickety section of the cemetery by using herds of goats. Read more in Why Are There Currently Goats in Congressional Cemetery?

Finally, this week, we have an interesting story from Discover magazine. Have the experiences of your ancestors left an indelible mark on you through the genes you have inherited from them? Biologists and geneticists now believe that it is possible to pass on epigenetic mutations to your descendants. Read more in Grandma’s Experiences Leave a Mark on Your Genes.