Scott County Genealogical Society, Inc.
Georgetown, Kentucky

Established 1983

Genealogy Tips and Techniques from SCGS Members

Note: Use of trade names in this section does not constitute an endorsement of the product or company by the Scott County Genealogical Society.

I've been back from Salt Lake City and the annual RootsTech convention for a week now, and although my feet are rested, my brain is still trying to process all the information I absorbed. Everything RootsTech had to offer from the keynote sessions, the class schedules, and of course the exhibit hall was spectacular. One could not escape the role that DNA is having on family history research. New DNA testing companies are now on board, and each was offering discounted rates for their tests. The lines to take advantage of the reduced prices seemed to go on forever, at least on the first day the exhibit hall was open. Successive days saw shorter lines and attendees were able to spend time talking to sales reps and learning about DNA matching. The major genealogy software companies were there (Legacy Family Tree, RootsMagic, and Ancestral Quest) offering tutorials and helping users with questions. A new addition to RootsTech this year was Heredis, a French software company that has over 100,000 users worldwide. They have products for both PC and Mac, and their show display was informative; they were giving away free copies of their software in hopes of adding to their strong user base. The other software companies were offering steep discounts for their products. The Demo Theater sponsored by 23andMe was one of the best venues in the exhibit hall. Attendees could watch back-to-back presentations and demonstrations by dozens of RootsTech exhibitors. The only downside I experienced at the conference was enduring the lines to get into the class sessions. The RootsTech staff scanned everyone's conference badge as they entered the session rooms, supposedly to get a head count for each session. This procedure was in place Wednesday through Friday, but not on Saturday. The registration lines on Tuesday were also quite long; some people stood in line over three hours. RootsTech is sponsored by FamilySearch, and it's doubtful that any other organization could match their enthusiasm or resources. The big question is, will I go back next year? It's an expensive venture, with airfare, hotel, and meal prices increasing annually. The older I get, the longer it takes me to bounce back from a week-long event. We'll depends how I feel this summer when I need to start making travel plans. RootsTech next year will be held February 27-March 2, 2019, in Salt Lake City. 03/11/18 TRB

Wow! I just looked at the calendar and realized that I hadn't yet posted a tip for February; forgetfulness, a sad complement to old age. I attended an excellent session in Frankfort yesterday sponsored by the Kentucky Genealogical Society. The guest speakers were Katherine Pennavaria and Rosemary Meszaros, staff librarians at Western Kentucky University. They talked about immigration and the obstacles that many people faced when coming to America. One topic that they continually stressed was that the names of new arrivals were NOT changed by Ellis Island personnel. This myth has permeated the world of genealogy for decades, and many of our readers have, no doubt, heard family stories promoting that Uncle Bill's name was really Wilhelm when he lived in Germany before coming to America. Most authorities on the subject agree that many names were probably changed, but they were changed by the emigrees themselves, not someone sitting at a desk on Ellis Island. According to Pennavaria and Meszaros, ship manifests were the source documents for the names of people coming to the United States. It's important that family historians remember that Ellis Island was not the only port of entry for people coming to America. Passengers also arrived at Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and San Francisco. And not all immigrations occured at seaside ports; Mexicans and Canadians came through border stations in Arizona, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Montana. A great website that provides information on the U.S. Ports of Arrival can be found here. And don't forget to check out the websites for Ellis Island and Castle Garden where you can search immigration files. America was built by immigrants who were our ancestors, and as genealogists, we need to study where they came from, and why. 02/11/18 TRB

Happy New Year to all SCGS members and visitors. May this coming year be filled with broken brick walls and great genealogical discoveries. If there's a genealogist among us who doesn't enjoy cemetery sleuthing, I haven't met him or her. Tombstones mark the final resting places of our ancestors and relatives, so those stone markers can contain valuable information that marks their places in time. Unfortunately, in many family and small church graveyards, bodies were buried with no markers, or perhaps wooden markers that didn't stand up to the ravages of time or the environment. Thankfully, as technology has improved over the years, techniques like ground-penetrating radar have been used to locate burials long lost to the ages. Although we rely on grave markers to provide information about those interred, the facts contained on them are sometimes wrong. A cousin of mine, Kate REED, is buried in our small family graveyard in eastern Kentucky. Her last name is spelled REID on her marker. And I'm sure some of us have noticed incorrect birth or death dates on markers. We have to remember that many of our ancestors had no real record of their birth other than what might have been recorded in a family bible now discarded. Many vital records before 1911 don't exist unless the county where our ancestors lived documented them. I found evidence of the correct spelling of Kate's last name in county records and census files. It's not hard to imagine that birth dates were made up or changed if no real proof to the contrary was ever documented. I've seen conflicting birthdates on draft registration forms; you may have family stories about Uncle Frank who lied about his age so he could enlist during wartime. With no proof otherwise, their incorrect dates were perpetuated and left to us, the living, to discover the real facts. Regardless of where you locate important dates (grave markers, county records, census forms, etc.), challenge yourself to find supporting facts and don't rely on just one source as irrefutable proof. 01/04/18 TRB

It seems like just yesterday when I was closing out last year's Tips and Techniques and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. The older I get, the faster time seems to slip away. A friend once told me that life was like a roll of toilet paper; the closer you get to the end of the roll, the faster it goes! The same can be said for our efforts to document our ancestors' lives. How many times have you said, "That's my next project," or "I'll do that tomorrow," and it never happens? Well, you're not alone. Our lives are busy and full of distractions. If you're looking for a project to work on this holiday season, consider scanning that collection of family pictures you've accumulated over the years. I've mentioned scanning several times over the years; it's easy to do, doesn't take a lot of equipment, and the rewards are truly worthwhile. Preserving the images of yesterday will mean a lot to those who come after us. Are your files (paper and electronic) in need of some gentle reorganizing? Not mine (said no genealogist ever)! I think I can find almost anything in my media collection, until I actually start to look for that one census page or death certificate I need to verify a location or death date. So use a couple of evenings over the next few weeks to sort through your records and put things in the right folders. Interested in exploring the value of DNA as a genealogy tool? DNA research is the hottest subject in our hobby these days. There are numerous blogs, Facebook groups, and video resources devoted to the subject, so set some time aside to see if DNA testing is something that would benefit your research. You don't need to look very hard to find genealogy projects to keep you busy during the holidays, so get started! Best wishes to all our SCGS members and Tips visitors for a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous 2018. 12/01/17 TRB

Have you ever submitted a query to a genealogical association or publication, or posted one on a social media platform like Facebook? Queries can be extremely helpful if you ask the right question and present it to the right audience. Here are a few tips that might help you write a better query. Based on many of the queries I see on some Facebook groups, people often fall short of asking the right question or providing enough information for someone to help them. On the Facebook group, Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, one person submitted a query asking where to look for adoption records. Obviously, that depends on the state. Her query would have been better had she mentioned the state or county she was researching. I've seen requests for obituary information where the name was the only detail provided; no location, no date. Another problem occurs when people ask for too much in their queries. As editor for our society's newsletter, I've seen requests that ask for death dates, names of parents, details from a will and property transfers, all in one query. Talk about overload! From my experience, a good query contains only one surname, provides dates and locations, and asks for just one or two bits of information. The shorter, the better. Think of the person who will be reading your query and might be willing to help with your research. If you choke them with too many details, they're going to less inclined to help. Keep in mind that someone willing to help you has his or her own family research to do and may not want to jump headfirst into yours. The more facts your request in a query, the less people will want to help. Give people time to react. If you're posting a query on social media, people are more apt to respond in a short period of time. If you send a query to a magazine or newsletter, expect to wait longer for a reply because of publication timelines. Don't give up if no one responds to your query. Ask again, and maybe word you query differently. Be polite; what you say or the way you say it may be a turn-off to someone else. And don't forget that dealing with queries is a two-way street. Consider helping someone else if you have information to share. 11/02/17 TRB

It helps for researchers to realize that much of genealogy IS NOT clear cut or "black and white." Thus, it is important to come to genealogy with an open mind and a certain degree of comfort for some things remaining unknown or things being ambiguous. Sources often DO conflict with one another. Names DO have various spellings. Important dates and ages can vary greatly from source to source (or even within the same source). Also, sometimes, there are people with the same (or similar names) and things get "mixed up"--and our information (and perceived reality) winds up being completely incorrect. Many researchers are far too quick to accept one spelling, one date, or one reality as being the "correct" one--and to consider all other spellings, dates, possibilities, and realities as "wrong." As a result, they miss many hints and clues--and they have "incorrect" data on their family trees. I can't tell you how many times I was "certain" about some genealogical "fact"--and then a new piece of information emerges and everything that I KNEW to be a "fact" for many years ends up being incorrect. Be slow to draw conclusions. Be open to other theories and to there being "multiple" possible answers. Be comfortable with things being ambiguous or unknown. Source: Jon Prain, Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (Facebook),10/06/17, used with permission.

I attended the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) annual conference held in Pittsburgh in late August. As memory serves me, this was the fourth FGS conference I have attended; I went to similar events in Knoxville, Fort Wayne, and Salt Lake City in previous years. This year's event was especially rewarding because of the speakers and the scope of their programs. Although much smaller in size than the annual RootsTech conferences held in Salt Lake City, the FGS still managed to garner some of the best speakers on the circuit. The conference was opened with a short talk by Joshua Taylor, a co-host of PBS' Genealogy Roadshow. Josh mentioned that although genealogy has become a billion dollar industry, some society memberships have waned oved the years, and he challenged us to reverse that trend by focusing on what our local societies will look like in the years ahead. Amy Johnson Crow gave an interesting talk on the value of social media to our local groups. She gave overviews of Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms and shared some best practices that any group can explore. The importance of DNA testing was stressed by several speakers including Blaine Bettinger, author of several books on the topic, Judy Russell (the Legal Genealogist), and perhaps the most energetic speaker of the group, Diahan Southard. Despite the negatives that many of us have heard about establishing online family trees, most of the speakers suggested doing so, if for no other reason than to see the tips and possible matches that the websites provide. They cautioned, however, that the tips were only suggestions and should be verified through individual research. Regarding DNA testing, the experts said to do it. Several DNA companies had information booths at the conference, so there was no reason to avoid learning the ins and outs. The speakers explained the types of DNA tests (Y-DNA, mitochondrial, and autosomal) and discussed why each was important. One of Blaine Bettinger's suggestions was to start a DNA Interest Group (DIG) at the society level. This provides a local knowledge pool to help other members increase their knowledge. Interest in DNA is growing; testing facilities report high testing rates and are providing enhanced reports for customers to identify potential matches. If you haven't participated in DNA testing, perhaps it's time to do so. It's a great way to find connections and improve the value of your genealogical research. 09/04/17 TRB

If you have a Civil War veteran among your ancestors, definitely search for the existence of a military pension application. I was fortunate enough to find the complete pension application of my great grandfather, John Breeding (1843-1937), and I would like to share some of the information I found. I was amazed at the facts provided in the application, and the legal affidavits it contained provided solid documentation of the facts. The beginning of the application contains his military information: date of mustering in; date of enlistment; unit assigned; name of commanding officer; and dates of promotion and discharge. A gold mine of military information! The pension application proceeds to list numerous medical issues he encountered during the war, and for which he was applying for a pension. He had bouts with measles, pneumonia, and gastrointestinal diseases throughout his three-year military service. There was a section in the pension application in which he listed the name of one of his brothers, a physician, who wrote statements substantiating the medical conditions and claim. The name of John's wife was mentioned in the application, as well as their marriage date and location. John was asked twice in the chain of letters included in the document to list the names and birth dates of all his living children. There was mention of an 1834 family Bible John produced to verify his own birth date of 20 February 1843. (What I wouldn't give to see that Bible today!) From what I read in the documents, John's pension in the amount of $12 per month was approved. But that's not the end of the story. In the late 1800s and again in the early 1900s, federal pension laws apparently changed which adjusted the disability rates for various diseases. John continued to apply for increases in his pension with some success. A notice in the July 24, 1914 issue of the Maysville Public Ledger newspaper indicated that John's new pension amount would be $40 per month. The last correspondence in his pension file dated two years prior to his death indicates that he was receiving $95 per month, the last increase due to his having to hire an attendant to help with his care. John took his own life in 1937, apparently despondent over his wife's death two years earlier. John's daughter, Nancy, my grandmother, never mentioned her father to me, nor did my own father who would have known his grandfather for over 20 years. Military pension applications from other wars and periods of service no doubt contain similar facts and figures, and I hope that by sharing the information pertaining to my ancestor will encourage you to search the records and see what you might find. Pension information is available on the Fold3 website, and can sometimes be ordered from the National Archives. 08/03/17 TRB

A term we hear frequently in genealogy circles is "lineage society." According to the Lineage Society of America website, "a lineage society is an organization created to honor a specific heritage or event. Members of lineage societies must prove their descent of that heritage or event through industry approved genealogical proof standards." Among the many reasons for joining a lineage society is to honor an ancestor who was a member of a particular group or perhaps participated in a significant event in our nation's (or any nation's) history. How many lineage societies are there? It's hard to say exactly, but the number is significant. I'm going to mention a few of the more popular ones and provide links to their websites so you can get an idea of their organizational structures, membership requirements, and costs. Perhaps the most popular is the Daughters of the American Revolution. Tracing its roots to 1890, the DAR's objectives are historical, educational, and patriotic in nature, and over 950,000 people have been admitted to the society. On a local note, the Scott County DAR chapter was organized in April 1912, and its meetings were routinely mentioned in the Georgetown Times newspaper. The society has hundres of chapters throughout the United States and overseas, and it genealogical database is free to search. The Sons of the American Revolution is the largest male lineage organization in the United States. Its mission is similar to that of the DAR, and the society also provides a patriot database that's free to search. The society's headquarters is located in Louisville, as is their genealogical research library which is open to the public Monday through Friday. Another lineage society that you may find of value is Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. The SUVCW works to preserve the legacy and history of those who fought and worked to save the Union. Their National Grave Registration Project strives to locate the final resting places of all Union Civil War Veterans. The grave database, although limited at this time, is free to search. Preserving the history and contributions of Confederate military personnel is the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Like its Union counterpart, the SCV works to help future generations understand the motivation of those who fought for the Southern cause. The Lineage Society of America (see link above) maintains a registry of many groups that honor individuals, groups, and causes; it's worth your time to scan the list to gain an appreciation for all opportunities to honor our ancestors. Hey, there's even a Society of Descendants of Lady Godiva! Makes you wonder what they do at their meetings! 07/11/17 TRB

Several of our recent tips have been about Find A, one of the more popular genealogy-related websites. The website provides burial information on thousands of people, including, no doubt, some of your ancestors. It's a fairly intuitive website, in that even a computer novice can figure it out the first time he/she uses it. I would like to share a few techniques that I have discovered over the years that might help you find those elusive relatives and ancestors. But before you start searching, I suggest you set up a free account. On the home page, in the upper right corner, click on the Join Now link. You'll be asked for your email address and name, and be asked to select a password. That's pretty much it, quite easy. The Find A Grave staff will never share your email address with anyone. Once you have an account, you can enter grave information yourself, or submit corrections to existing memorials. You begin your search from the website's home page be selecting the Search XXX million grave records. (The XXX changes to reflect how many memorials on online; currently the number is 160 million.) When the search form appears, enter what information you know about the person. Sometimes, the less information you include is better. For example, if your relative's first name was James, but he was known to everyone as Jimmy, it might be better to leave the First Name field blank. I had a great uncle whose name was Edward, or so everyone thought. Further research led to his real name, Edmond. Same for the Middle name field; if you know his middle name was Francis and include that name, depending on how the information was entered in the database, that may end up excluding him from the search. Whoever entered the memorial information may have just included his middle initial, not the full middle name. The last name is very important; use the exact spelling. If using the exact spelling doesn't give you the result you're looking for, try a spelling variation (e.g. Reed and Reid). If you know the exact birth and death years, include those, but again if you're not sure, omit them. The majority of records in the Find A Grave database are in the United States, so select the state where you think the grave might be. Select the Search button, and check your results. If your relative is not in the list, revise the search criteria and try again. Check adjoining counties or states. Find A Grave is a great resource, but your success will depend on experience, trial and error, and just a pinch of luck. 06/01/17 TRB

A topic I've touched on from time to time in our Genealogy Tips is data backup. Almost weekly on Facebook and in genealogy blogs, I run across stories from people who have lost their genealogy data files for one reason or another. They tend to blame the software they're using, or their computer, or the latest update to Windows 10 for ruining decades of genealogy research. It's always easier to blame something or someone for a genealogy catastrophe rather than accepting the fact that the fault just might be of their own doing. I've been a computer enthusiast since the first personal computer hit the store shelves. In the early days of personal computing, data backup wasn't a big topic. If I felt the need to save something twice, I'd pop in another floppy disk and make the second copy. It didn't take me long to realize that if I had to retype hundreds of lines of text, I'd be money (and time) ahead to just make a backup copy. As the years progressed, so did the warnings about making backups. Floppy disks gave way to tape drives, hard drives, ZipDrives, USB thumb drives, memory cards and a whole slew of other memory storage devices. Today, while some of the earlier forms of technology are still in use, many computer users, and that includes genealogists, have migrated to cloud backup services like Backblaze or Carbonite, or cloud storage services like Dropbox or Google Drive. In simple terms, backup services automatically transfer computer files to remote servers that can be accessed to recover lost or damaged files; storage services usually require the user to manually transfer the files to the cloud servers, although many of them can be automated to some degree. The point of this backup history lesson is to remind our readers to BACKUP their data often, and on more than one media format, and in more than one location. All it takes is one computer or software glitch, or an unwanted system update to render a data file unusable. You'll be a happier genealogist by getting into a routine of backing up your family files. 05/03/17 TRB

I attended a genealogy lecture recently, and the presenter talked about the importance of placing your ancestors on a timeline. I hadn't thought much about that topic before, but her comments made a lot of sense. One area where a timeline might help you is when you have two or more family members with the same names. Naming patterns of long ago differ from those of today. For well over a century during the 1700s and 1800s, the English naming pattern made its way across the sea. It was fairly common for the first male child of a marriage to be named for his paternal grandfather; the second son would be named for his maternal grandfather. The first daughter of a marriage would be named for the maternal grandmother, and the second daughter would be named for her paternal grandmother. And then it got a bit more involved for additional children. A third son or daughter would be named for his or her father and mother, respectively; a fourth son would be named for his oldest paternal uncle, and a fourth daughter would be named for her oldest maternal aunt. There are many articles in genealogy-related magazines and blogs that mentioned early naming patters; you can use your favorite search engine to find them. Step back just one generation, and if the original husband mentioned above had brothers who also married and had sons, it wouldn't take long for first and last names to start repeating themselves. That's why timelines become important when trying to sort out families as the generations progress. In my own family, there were several Catherines (or Katherines), a few Samuels, and some Johns. The timeline will help you chart the events of each person's life, from birth to marriage to death, and the differences between like-named cousins will soon become apparent. Use all the tools available to you in your research. 04/08/17 TRB