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.


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

A couple of months ago I wrote about some of my favorite genealogy websites, and the one at the top of my list was Find A Grave. It's a great resource to locate the graves of ancestors or related family. With a few minutes of research you can find pictures of grave markers, names and locations of cemeteries, and sometimes detailed information about the deceased. Little did I know when I wrote about Find A Grave that just a month later I would encounter a problem with my favorite website. While attending RootsTech in Salt Lake City in early February, I sat in on a lecture during which the speaker referred several times to Find A Grave. Later that evening, I logged on to the website to check some of the memorials I had contributed. I entered the information for my mother's memorial which I had created a month after her death in 2011, and discovered that her memorial had been merged with another one created by someone I don't know; the new memorial was created just one day after my mother’s death! The information in this new memorial is identical to what I posted in August 2011, including the family links for my father, maternal grandparents, and aunt. The new memorial also misspelled my mother’s first name. I tried to contact the manager of the new memorial only to find out that she had disabled message contacts. Two questions came to mind: first, how could the memorial I created be merged with another one without my being notified or without my permission? And second, what can be done to return the memorial to my management where it rightfully belongs? One thing I cannot find on Find A Grave's website is a help/contact link. If anyone has experienced a similar problem with Find A Grave, or knows of a help/contact link, please send me a message (trb@scgs-ky.org). I still love the website, still recommend it to others, but there are some issues that need attention. 03/06/17 TRB

UPDATE: After doing some digging, I found an email address (info@findagrave.com) and explained the situation surrounding my mother's Find A Grave memorial. On March 10, 2017, I received two emails from Find A Grave, one saying that my mother's memorial had been transferred to me, and the other explaining the memorial merging process. That second message encouraged me to contact them whenever I needed assistance. I wrote back saying the the problem wasn't with Find A Grave per se, but with ruthless contributors who feel that Find A Grave is a numbers game, and that people who submit the most memorials will get some sort of prize or notoriety. Bottom line--don't be afraid to challenge genealogical information you feel is wrong, misleading, or inappropriate. 03/12/17 TRB

A recurring challenge in genealogy circles is to document your family stories. We're encouraged to write about our ancestors so that their stories will be recorded and preserved for the generations that will come after us. Many of us began our family history endeavors after our parents and grandparents were gone; if your relatives are still alive, seize the opportunity to talk to them about their lives. Record those stories if you can; there are many low-cost devices to help with that project, or you can simply find voice recorder apps for your smartphones. If you’re unsure how to get started with your own oral history project, Family Tree Magazine and many other genealogy sites offer tips for oral history interviewing. If you are involved with planning a family reunion, consider adding an oral history event where relatives can record their stories. And while you're at it, write or record your own family story. When we start our genealogy pursuits, we're encouraged to start with ourselves and work backwards through our family lines; there's no reason to ignore that logic in documenting family stories. We have a great oral history resource right here in Georgetown at the Scott County Public Library. They now have a sound studio and are working in conjunction with the University of Kentucky to upload local oral histories to UK's Louis B. Nunn Oral History Center. Genealogy is more than just names and dates; adding oral histories to your research efforts will help you learn more about your family, preserve their life stories, and help you understand how you became the person you are. 02/04/17 TRB

Happy New Year to our SCGS members and website visitors. Starting a new year is like opening a new book; there are many days ahead of us like many pages in the book, each waiting to take us to a new adventure. Here's hoping that the days and months ahead are full of genealogical discoveries for all of us. This month I want to share some of my favorite websites that I use for genealogy research. My first go-to website is Find A Grave®. What I like about this site is its simple interface; enter a last name, a state, and a county if you know it, and the search engine will list possible matches. If you know a first name or other details like a death date, the search results are fewer and more accurate. Another plus for Find A Grave is that it's a crowd sourced website--its users provide the data by submitting memorials. The next website I want to mention is the Kentucky Digital Library, a state-wide association that provides access to shared digital archival collections. This free site provides historic newspapers, images, maps, and oral histories. Similar in content is the Chronicling America website maintained by the Library of Congress. At this site you can search America's historic newspapers from 1789-1924. You won't find every newspaper from every state, but there are well over 11 million images to view, print, or download. The final website among my favorite hangouts is FamilySearch.org. Perhaps not as powerful or inclusive as Ancestry.com, FamilySearch is free and contains many records you won't find on pay-to-use genealogy websites like Ancestry, Find My Past, and others. Records are being added to FamilySearch every day, and for vital records like birth, marriage, and death information, they're a great source. With FamilySearch, you can post trees online and take advantage of a worldwide network of other researchers who might be related to you. We're fortunate that there are so many genealogical resources at our disposal. I've named just a few that I find valuable; you probably have favorites, too. 01/02/17 TRB

First of all, Merry Christmas to all our SCGS members and visitors. Here's wishing you the very best of holiday experiences and memories! There's an online source for genealogical information that you might have ignored, because it's not the first thing that comes to mind when you're ancestrally challenged. That resource is YouTube®, the online video-sharing website that's been around since 2005. According to Wikipedia®, the three former employees of PayPal® who developed YouTube® sold it to Google® less than two years later for a whopping $1.65B (that's B, as in billion). So what exactly is available on YouTube® for the genealogist looking for help? Hundreds of hours of instruction from companies like Ancestry.com®, FamilySeacrh.org®, and Fold3.com®. There are video blogs from some of the best-known speakers on the genealogy circuit like Amy Johnson Crow, Lisa Louise Cooke, and Judy Russell (the Legal Genealogist). You'll encounter videos by Thomas MacEntee, Denise Levenick, Mark Lowe, and Pat Richley-Erickson (DearMYRTLE to those who don't know her real name). The major genealogy software companies (Legacy Family Tree®, RootsMagic®, and Ancestral Quest®) also have a presence on YouTube® with many hours of instructional help, tips, and how-tos. I subscribed to the Brigham Young University (BYU) Family History Library Channel on YouTube®, and I get a weekly email announcing any new genealogy videos that become available. You can also post your own videos on YouTube®, and it doesn't take a full production studio to do it. The camera on your smartphone will work just fine. So if you discovered a new way to search for vital records online, or want to share your methods for breaking down a brick wall, YouTube® can be your stage. During the holidays ahead, why not take some time to explore this great genealogy vault of information and see what YouTube® can offer you. 12/04/16 TRB

When one mentions November, the talk usually turns to Thanksgiving memories of family and friends gathered around the table to share turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, dressing and all the "fixins," as my grandmother used to say. Thanksgiving is one of our most anticipated holidays because it brings families together to share stories, to meet new family members, and certainly to remember those who won't be at the table this year. But in November we also celebrate Veterans Day, a special day each year when we recognize the people who have served in our Armed Forces. It is one of our more though-provoking holidays because hardly a family has not had someone who served his or her country during peacetime or war. Our day of remembrance traces its roots to 1919 when President Wilson spoke of the gratitude our country shared with the European allies at the end of World War I. From a genealogical perspective, Veterans Day reminds us to search for the roles our ancestors had in military service. Military draft records can be found in several paid and free databases such as Ancestry.com®, Fold3.com®, and FamilySearch.org®. These records are especially valuable because they contain information such as dates of birth and birthplaces, and in the case of immigrants, their country of birth. You'll also find employment data and possibly the names of spouses and addresses. Often overlooked on draft records are the physical descriptions of each registrant, their height, weight, and color of hair and eyes; these might be clues to where some of your physical traits come from. Fold3.com®, originally known as Footnote.com® when it began in 2007, fell under the Ancestry.com® umbrella in 2010; it has gained the reputation of being the go-to website for military records. But full access comes at a price; the premium membership is $79.95/year, but they do offer monthly access for $7.95. And Fold3.com® does offer a free basic membership with access to free records only, and many images appear to be free to view. With the free membership, you can post memorials to friends and family members. I found U.S. Navy records mentioning my father when I searched ship logs and manifests from the World War II era. Military records, like many other scraps of information, help us to know more about our ancestors so we can preserve their stories for our descendants. Happy Thanksgiving to all our readers! 11/06/16 TRB

Many of the ideas for these tips come from postings in the various Facebook® groups devoted to genealogy or history. (There are over 10,000 of these groups at last check; check here for the current list.) Most of us have encountered examples of spelling errors, wrong names, or wrong dates in documents we've found online. This frequently happens in census records and in birth and death certificates, but you'll find errors in many other types of records, too. The reason that most of these errors occur is plain old human error. Consider the example of census records. At the top of each page of the census is the name of the enumerator, the person conducting the door-to-door data inquiries. (I've actually found census documents where my relatives served as administrators.) Respondents replied to questions asking for names, ages, birth locations, occupations, etc. What the respondent said, and what the enumerator heard, could have been entirely different, for example Helen and Ellen, or Robbie and Bobby. Errors can also be introduced by the indexer in transcribing census records for database development. An indexer may have spelled Kathy or Katherine as Cathy or Catherine, or written an age as 19 when it was 17. (If you have ever participated in an indexing project, thank you!) But it's easy to make a mistake that can cause future researchers lots of headaches. Draft registration cards for WW I and WW II also contain spelling errors. Registrants reported to the draft board offices and would state their names to the board clerk. The clerk would write or type the registrant's name, gather other facts like ages and dates of birth, and the registrant would sign the card. Many mistakes occurred. When you encounter incorrect data in your research, accept it as a challenge and attempt to find the truth. Document the reasons why you believe a fact differs from what you know may be the truth. You'll become a better researcher, and your records will be more accurate. 10/01/16 TRB

Many genealogists are packrats. And that includes me. There, I've admitted it. Sometimes when I look at the things I've collected over the years I wonder why I kept them, why they were important to me at the time. But the main credo of a packrat is, "if in doubt, save it!" Thus the multiple boxes in my closets, in the garage, under the beds, etc. After reading various blog posts and articles about simplifying storage solutions, I realized that they definitely applied to me. My first project has been scanning photos and other paper documents and saving them as digital files which don't take up physical space. If you're looking for a simple first step in solving your own storage dilemma, scanning might fit the bill. There are several types of scanners, and I've tried them all. Flatbed scanners are easy to use and connect to your desktop or laptop computer. They're great for photos of all sizes, and can handle large paper documents, too. An all-in-one printer-scanner-copier is another option; like flatbeds, they connect to your desktop or laptop. They produce quality scans which you use for archive purposes. The third option is portable scanner like the Flip-Pal. It's a perfect choice for copying small pictures (4X6), and larger photos and documents can be copied and "stitched" together using included software. Most smartphones can also be used to scan photos and documents using free scanning apps. Other options are handheld wand and mouse-style scanners; I've used those in the past, but they're a bit hard to handle and don't produce consistent scans. Obtaining a quality scan is only part of the process; you also need a storage solution. Digital images can be stored on your computer's hard drive or on one of several external storage devices like flash drives, external hard drives, or optical storage discs. Some of these options are less permanent because they're subject to deterioration over time. Cloud storage is what many genealogists have turned to for reliable, secure, and cost-effective archiving. Some are free, others charge a modest monthly or annual fee. Services such as Dropbox, Carbonite, and Backblaze are leaders in cloud storage services. The tools are out there...don't be afraid to use them. Scanning old photos provides reliable archiving results and will reduce the clutter, too. 09/03/16 TRB

I watched a webinar recently that was offered by the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). The DPLA is a free public portal that allows visitors to search the digital content of numerous libraries and museums throughout the country. I was introduced to DPLA at RootsTech held in Salt Lake City this past February (see comments about DPLA in the March 2016 Tips and Techniques). The recorded version of the webinar is currently available online at this link. During the broadcast, co-presenter Tamika Maddox Strong presented some tips for using DPLA. One of her tips caught my eye, and I wanted to share it with our website visitors. Her tip was, "Be prepared for the good, the bad, the ugly and the unbelievable. Keep an open mind about what you learn. Take history as it is." I'm sure many of us have uncovered things in our research that our families never discussed. Until I started researching my paternal line, I never knew, nor would I have ever imagined, that my second and third great-grandfathers were slave owners. According to one reference I stumbled upon, they owned nearly two-thirds of the slaves in the county where they lived. I also discovered that another one of my great-grandfathers committed suicide, and that another close relative died from complications of alcoholism. Talk about the bad, the ugly and the unbelievable! But those findings have been offset somewhat by a few good things I've learned about my father's military service, a grandfather's mission to improve safety in coal mines in Kentucky and West Virginia, and another grandfather's efforts to improve commerce in a small Kentucky town. I've seen marriage records of some family members who were as young as 15 when they tied the knot; I've seen cases of girls as young as 13 appearing in county marriage books. Times were different in the early 1900s; young marriages were more common than they are today, infant mortality was higher, and the overall quality of life more challenging. It's not fair to judge our ancestors based on the mores of a century ago. Their values and customs were different. That's what Tamika Strong was referring to in the DPLA webinar when she cautioned viewers to "take history as it is," and not judge those who came before us by today's standards. Of course I have to wonder what people a hundred years from now will think when they see digitized pictures of their ancestors with green or purple hair, or sporting multicolor body art, or intricate body piercings! Genealogy is an interesting and rewarding hobby, but don't be upset about the things you might discover along the way. 08/01/16 TRB

Most genealogists love cemeteries, and summertime is perfect for exploring them. The hallowed ground connects us with our ancestors in a way no other resource can. The stones can tell stories; they provide facts, dates, and family connections. Here are a few tips for visiting cemeteries, whether they are local, out in the country, or even miles away. Never go alone. There are many uneven places to get hurt. A second person is often needed to help find an elusive tombstone or assist with taking pictures. Take a phone. In case of injury or unwanted encounters with angry landowners, you might want to contact EMS or police for assistance. Clothing. Wear protective clothing: long sleeves, long pants, a hat with a brim, and a pair of gloves. Sometimes rubber boots are necessary. These accessories will protect against sunburn, poison ivy, bug bites and snakes. Supplies. Take a clipboard to write on, equipped with a legal pad, and a few pens and pencils. A few other accessories to keep in your cemetery kit are a whisk broom and soft bristle brush, some water in a spray bottle, and a digital camera. Cleaning a stone. The first rule of any cemetery sleuth is do no harm. If you encounter a tombstone that’s dirty and hard to read, use the whisk broom or brush to clean it—gently, of course. Lichen or moss can be removed with water and a soft stick. Do not use shaving cream or any other chemicals you might have read about in magazines or blogs. Definitely avoid harsh detergents, bleach, and chalk. Remember, do no harm. Photographing the stone. Try to position the camera so that the tombstone fills the viewfinder, and avoid distorting angles that can impair the photograph. Time of day is important; shadows are more pronounced during early mornings and late afternoons. Take extra camera batteries with you. Tombstone transcriptions. Include the location of the cemetery; use GPS coordinates for exact location. Most smartphones have GPS capabilities. Write down all the information on the stones. You might want to use a cemetery transcription form like the one found on our website. Copy all the narrative on the stone; pay attention to special marks or insignia. Check all sides of the stone; don’t miss anything. Cemeteries can provide valuable information about our relatives; visit them often and help preserve them for future generations. 07/02/16 SG/TRB

We rarely repeat our monthly Tips topics, but I just came across some additional information about a subject we addressed in September 2012, and that’s the DD Form 214, Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, issued to every veteran who retires, separates, or is discharged from active military duty. The form contains a gold mine of information that you may not discover in traditional genealogical sources. You’ll find dates of service, the branch of service, rank, military awards and decorations, and type of discharge. The form also contains personal information such as date of birth, service number, and home of record at time of entry to active service. You can read our previous tip in our Tips Archive. I recently discovered that some veterans file a copy of their DD Form 214 in their County Clerk’s Office. Some services even encourage personnel to do this as part of their separation briefings. According to the website DD214.com, filing the DD Form 214 with the County Clerk’s Office can help veterans in several ways, “but the most important thing is quick access to your DD Form 214 should you need another replacement copy some time in the future.” It normally takes two weeks or longer to get a replacement DD Form 214 from the National Archives, so having a copy available locally in case of loss or theft can save time and headaches. Maybe you’re not a veteran, but perhaps you had an ancestor or family member who was. So if you run into dead ends in your research, you might want to check with your County Clerk’s Office to see if your elusive ancestor might have filed his or her DD Form 214. Note that there may be privacy issues to overcome depending on the state involved, but hey, we’re genealogists, and all of us have encountered hurdles in our research, so what’s one more! And if you do need to order a discharge certificate from the National Archives, you can find instructions here. Military records are a wonderful source of information in genealogical research. 06/01/16 TRB