Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween Family History-Style

This is an excellent Halloween article from written by Juliana Smith
28 October 2011

 Legend has it, on Halloween the veil between this world and the next is lifted a bit. I for one am hoping that when that happens tomorrow, a few of my ancestors will reveal themselves.  (Note to William Dennis—if you could reveal yourself through the 1860 census, that would be awesome.)
So while I’m not a huge fan of “all things gruesome,” I do feel somewhat of a connection with Halloween. I mean, as family historians we’re all about dead people, right? We love cemeteries, obituaries, death and burial records, and really anything death-related.

Ghost stories?  Since our favorite stories are about people who have passed on, I think they qualify. And of course, if you’ve been doing family history for a while, you’ve probably uncovered a skeleton or two in the closet. Sure you can still hand out candy to the kiddies, but here are ways you can celebrate Halloween “family history-style.”
Put Some Flesh on That Skeleton
Today we have online trees and software that make it easy to organize and keep track of names, dates, and places. They form a framework—or skeleton if you will—for our family history.  But they’re not the story. The story lies in the details we find in the records.
What was your ancestor’s occupation and what might that work have been like? Census records and directories are good places to learn about their occupations. Take it a step further by researching that occupation online, and in books and periodicals.
Were they active in their church? Look into the history of your ancestor’s church. You may find him or her mentioned in a published history of the religious community.
Were they educated, and could they read and write? Most of us have seen the columns in censuses noting whether an ancestor could read or write, or noting “at school” in the occupational field, but have we ever put that together with their ages? Or how old they are when you first find them listed as employed? In the 1880 U.S. Census, my great-grandmother’s two sisters, aged fifteen and seventeen are employed as coffee packers. Another column in that census revealed that when that enumeration was taken in June, their father had been unemployed for three months of that census year. It’s possible they had to leave school to help supplement the family income.
Were there health issues that impacted the family? By looking into the causes of death, both primary and secondary, we can gain helpful insights into the family life. Often, the attending physician had to note how long the deceased had been in his care. This could indicate whether there was a lengthy illness or whether the death was sudden and unexpected.
Locating Cemeteries and Other Haunts
Genealogists are ahead of the curve when it comes to appreciating cemeteries, but sometimes locating them is half the battle. If you can get your hands on a good local map for the vicinity in which you are searching, you may find some larger cemeteries outlined on the map. In other cases you might have to turn to local resources.
Genealogical societies are a good starting place. Like you, the genealogists in that group are likely cemetery enthusiasts and probably know a lot about graveyards in the area—large and small. They may have even canvassed the cemetery and published an index, abstracts, or transcriptions from the headstones or other cemetery records.
Often a death certificate, obituary, or some other death-related record will include the name of the cemetery where your ancestor is buried. If not, map out the cemeteries that are near where the individual lived.
For those searching in the U.S., the U.S. Geological Survey’s Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) is a very useful tool .  Select the state and county name and “cemetery” from the “Feature Class” drop-down menu, you can see a list of cemeteries for a particular county.
From the list of results, you can click on each cemetery name for more information and to map the location using a number of mapping tools that will give you the exact location of the cemetery.
You can also locate some of your ancestors’ other “haunts” using this tool, including schools, churches, and “populated places.” Maps show streams, rivers, ponds, wooded areas, mountains, valleys, etc. If you have an obscure U.S. town or feature name associated with your ancestor, this is a great place to look.
Communicating with the Dead
Superstitions say that Halloween is a good time to communicate with the deceased. Of course, I do that all the time. Usually the conversation is one-sided with a lot of pleading on my end and silence on their end, but occasionally, I could swear I hear laughing. (Of course, that could be my husband.)

Saturday, October 22, 2011


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Some family trees have beautiful leaves, and some have just a bunch of nuts. Remember, it is the nuts that make the tree worth shaking.
~Author Unknown

Friday, October 7, 2011

FREE Genealogy Course

Lesson #4
What Records Tell Us
Franklin Guy Rivers Draft Registration

  • Each census record will tell you different things! The US started censuses in 1790 and the UK started in 1841. The US releases censuses to the public every 72 years, the UK every 100 years.  The 1940 US census record will be available in the spring of 2012.
  • Not every census record is available (1890 US census was mostly destroyed and most of Ireland’s census records were burned).
  • If you find an ancestor on a census but can’t find them in the next census, search the next census by the address where they lived. It could be they’re still there!
  • Check out who lives next door to your ancestor; oftentimes relatives lived close together. If someone lived on your ancestor’s street with the same last name, that could be another ancestor for you!
    • An ancestor’s occupation.
    • Where they were born and their age.
    • Where their parents came from.
    • If they immigrated or if they’re citizens.
  • There are different kinds of immigration records: emigration (leaving a country), passenger lists (ship records), immigration (coming into a country), and naturalization (becoming a citizen).
  • The older a naturalization record is (1800s), the less it will tell you.
  • Before 1892 most immigrants immigrated into New York through Castle Garden Port, not Ellis Island!
Harry Blimes' Naturalization Document
  • Country of origin.
  • If any relatives were traveling with them.
  • Ancestor’s occupation.
  • Ancestor’s destination.
  • Details of where the ancestor came from.
  • Name of parents.
  • Current residence.
  • Occupation.

Minnie Estell Tolliver Death Certificate
  • Vital records are birth, marriage, and death records for an ancestor.
  • Social Security Death Index is useful for people who died after 1960’s.
  • In 1837 England began civil registration (registering vital records on a governmental level). Before that all vital records were recorded by the parish (areas based on proximity to local church). Therefore it’s IMPORTANT to find out which religion your ancestor followed!
    • Names of ancestor’s parents.
    • Time and place of an event (birth, marriage, death) took place.
    • Cause of death.
    • Maiden name (if marriage record).

Monday, October 3, 2011

FREE Genealogy Course

Lesson #3
Where to Find Information

Are you the last one left of your family? 

Hopefully not!  

 But do ask your oldest ancestors soon to tell you the stories and myths surrounding your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.  Get all of the names, dates and areas where your ancestors lived.  These memories will provide invaluable clues as you search for histories of those who have gone before.  My husband’s great grandfather accidentally killed his best friend in a bar fight in Nelsonville, Ohio.  He fled to West Virginia and thought he was hiding out but the sheriff from Nelsonville tracked him down, brought him home to Nelsonville and put him in jail.  We learned about this escapade by reading an article in the Nelsonville newspaper because the family was embarrassed and did not share this story with the rising generation.  The best part of the story is that the only witness to the killing was a young girl who went to visit great grandpa in the jail and then married him so she would not have to testify against him.  A GREAT story, right?  It might never have been documented if we had relied on what grandma was willing to tell us. Always check a lot of sources.

Finding census records is a major help in documenting relationships.  Census records since 1860 list the members of the household and you can tell by the ages how the relationships work.  Census records from 1880 and later tell the relationships.  Now that you have some names, dates and areas where your ancestors lived here are some sites where you can locate census records for your ancestors.  Google US census records for more sites.  Google is great for all things genealogy.

Email me at and I will send you a census abstract form to help you organize the information contained on a census record.  This form was created by Linda Kralman-Lambert, ILGenWeb Coordinator for Effingham County, Illinois © 2005

Don’t forget to write your own history for the generations to come.  Your stories will keep your memory alive to them.

"This packrat has learned that what the next generation will value most is not what we owned, but the evidence of who we were and the tales of how we loved. In the end, it's the family stories that are worth the storage."
-Ellen Goodman, The Boston Globe

If you need a giggle check out our Halloween decorated website at

Sunday, October 2, 2011

FREE Genealogy Course

FREE Genealogy Lesson #2 

Where to Put Your Information 

Shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall! 

Most trees can be transferred from one genealogy program to another by putting the information into a gedcom (genealogical data communication) file. All of the names, dates and relationships will transfer correctly but media (stories and pictures) does not transfer in a gedcom file. So choosing a good base file is important if you like to add ancestral stories and their pictures. 

Free sites: - This is my favorite free site. It has never charged and it never will. There is no small freebie section that will become too full so that you have to purchase a subscription in order to continue to build your tree. No need to make a purchase to see documents. - The free version of You can download an existing gedcom file or build your tree from scratch. My second favorite choice. - A good site but you have to purchase a premium account to build a large tree. This site uses family tree builder. - Claims to be a free search site but you have to register for a free 7 day trial if you want to see the information that they found. After the free trial you must pay. - This is a good place to search if you know the area where your ancestors lived. It is more complicated than some other sites but it does have a lot of historical county information. 

Sites that charge: - $159 per year for US records. $299 per year for world records. Give or get gift certificates. This is my site of choice because of the number of world-wide records. The charge is reasonable for what you get. You do need to be careful and verify the information that you find already collected on other family trees. - has a good list of the 50 most popular genealogy websites, which includes search sites, at: 

A review of the top 10 best genealogy websites cyndislist has a comprehensive, categorized & cross-referenced list of links that point you to genealogical research sites online. I have never been able to figure out how to use cyndislist for research so if anyone out there knows how to use this list and has been successful in using it for research please let me know how you did it. 

Families are like fudge... mostly sweet with a few nuts!!! 

If you have any questions or you need help getting started or if you are stuck pushing at a brick wall, please contact me and I will help you.