For the first time in nearly 10 years, I missed posting a tip to our monthly Tips and Techniques blog. Honestly the time just got away from me; I was busy finalizing our summer newsletter and by the time that was ready to go to the printer it was almost the end of the month. As my grandmother used to say, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." I had every intention of writing a tip last month but it never happened. One topic that keeps appearing in other genealogy posts I read is the role DNA is playing in solving cold case crimes. Like any hot topic, there's a broad spectrum of feelings on the subject. There are those that feel DNA sampling should be used only for genealogical research; others feel that if DNA can help solve crimes, it should definitely be a resource available to law enforcement personnel. What's your opinion?
Do genealogists take advantage of all the tools available to them? Probably not. One of my favorite tools is the newspaper collections from the areas I'm searching. Many libraries have newspaper collections on microfilm. Search them and you'll find birth and death announcements that precede the availability of state-collected vital records. You'll find deed descriptions and wills information that would take hours of research to find in court house records. Marriages were a favorite topic back in the day. Some announcements are no more than the names of the bride and groom, but other announcements list all the details imaginable; the outfits worn by the wedding party, the menu of the celebration lunch or dinner, the couple's honeymoon destination, and where the new family will live. Some of this may be more information than you want or need, but it's still a link to your ancestors. And isn't that our goal? 07/01/18 TRB
As I sat in my office on the eve of the 144th Kentucky Derby, I couldn't help but think about the system used by the Thoroughbred industry to identify, maintain, and report the pedigrees of thousands of race horses, living and dead, that have competed in the sport over hundreds of years. Although some may argue otherwise, the pedigree is the single most important fact used in the breeding and marketing of Thoroughbreds throughout the world. As genealogists we all study pedigrees, our own and those of our collateral families. Equine pedigrees are not sullied by marriages, divorces, religious affiliations, or family drama. When a young foal is born today or anytime in the future, you'll know its genealogy going back hundreds of years. In fact many Thoroughbreds can be traced back to three Arabian horses that were sent to England in the 17th Century to mate with their native mares. Thoroughbred breeding records are extremely accurate. Wouldn't it be nice if human genealogy were this easy! But we all know it's not. Many of us have one or more ancestors or relatives who left no trail of their time on earth. They appear in one census and that's it; or you'll find a mention of them in a random newspaper clipping and no other mention. Over the years there was (and maybe still is) distrust of the government and people may have felt that their privacy should be protected at all costs. People of means would sometimes drop out of sight, afraid that their relatives would hit them up for loans or give them children to raise. There were numerous reasons for avoiding notoriety in days gone by. That doesn't make our jobs as family historians any easier, so if you feel the challenges of genealogy are a bit overwhelming, maybe you should think about getting into the horse business! 05/10/18 TRB
Well, I did it again! Half of April is gone and I forgot to add the monthly Tips and Techniques posting. I don't know how much longer I can get away with blaming it on the forgetfulness of old age. As you may know from reading previous posts, I belong to several genealogy-related groups on Facebook. They're a source of information, camaraderie, and sometimes frustration. I've learned new things by visiting the groups - online resources I didn't know about, new technology, software that others have tried and liked, or not. I've read about the brick walls that confound my fellow family historians, how they tried to overcome them, research strategies that worked for them or failed; I take some solace in knowing that others have the same types of problems that I have in uncovering my family mysteries. And I know that others never find that one clue that will complete a branch on their family tree. And yes, I sometimes get frustrated at the posts I read, wondering how anyone could have missed an obvious clue staring him or her in the face, or visiting a well-known website to search for a person or an event in the life of an ancestor. I realize that I frequently lack empathy for someone who may be new to genealogy and not know the answers that more experienced researchers have learned over the years. Our hobby can make us look in the mirror and realize how we were once neophytes and that we should share our knowledge with others. There are lots of genealogy groups on Facebook; a detailed list is maintained by professional genealogist Katherine R. Willson, and you can find that list here. Another learning resource can be found in the many genealogy blogs that have popped up over the years; just Google "genealogy blogs" for an extensive list. Don't forget webinars that are offered free by Legacy. If you ever feel your interest in genealogy waning, there are hundreds of resources to visit and regain your focus. 04/15/18 TRB
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 see...it 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