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.


Last month I tossed out five questions about genealogy and provided some thoughts about three of the issues. This month I'll cover the last two topics, organization and society membership. (4) Are your records organized? Talk about an open-ended question. I guess the answer depends on our definition of "organized." Some of us are satisfied knowing that our records are in one room of our house. And others find solace in color-coded folders and a filing hierarchy that would put Google to shame! Where do you fit between these two extremes? Of course most of us use genealogy software to record our findings, and those programs can compile very detailed reports. Do you also maintain paper records? In the electronic age, some will say that paper records are obsolete. Personally I'm not ready to buy that premise. And that's why I keep family notebooks, each with printed family group sheets, copies of census pages and the birth and death records. I have electronic copies of these documents as well (if I can find them), but I'm not one to accept that electronic documents we use today will be viewable or readable in the years ahead as computer architecture changes and file formats perish. I started using personal computers long before PDF files ever existed. How long will that format last? I guess no one really knows the answer to that question. So again, paper records give me some security and will help me preserve and/or recover anything that gets lost or accidently deleted from my computer or cloud storage sites I use. I backup my electronic data to multiple sites, both local and cloud-based, and suggest everyone do the same. Sure, paper records can be destroyed by fires or floods. Nothing, I guess, is totally safe; that's why the Mormon Church records are stored in a mountain vault in Utah to protect them from natural and man-made disasters (think war). Organization is a personal choice and should be something you consider as your research records grow. (5) Do you belong to a genealogical society? Again, a personal choice, but your membership can be a valuable source of information. Most local and state societies publish newsletters that contain facts about early pioneers of the area, their names, birth, marriage, and death information, land records, will recordings, etc. You'll find articles about how your ancestors lived and worked in the old days. Most societies work to preserve the records and information that we find beneficial. And the best thing about local and regional societies, membership is not expensive, $10-20 per year is the norm, and the benefits can be rewarding. Society memberships are just another tool that we can use to document those who made us who we are today. 10/09/18 TRB

What kind of a genealogist are you? What sources do you use to find details about your ancestors? Do you share your research? Are your records organized? Do you belong to a local, regional, or national society?Those are five good questions to ponder whether you're just starting your family research or you're a seasoned veteran. Let's look into each question a bit deeper. (1) What kind of a genealogist are you? By most standards, good genealogists cite all their sources so they can find the facts again if necessary. Some genealogists are name and date collectors, and are more than satisfied with a minimum of data about their relatives. Our pursuit of information is an individual thing. Some people are more detail oriented and need to know every detail they can find about an ancestor, yet some of us don't want to be bothered with all the extra details. Genealogy is an interesting hobby, but it can be what any person wants it to be. If your goal is to publish your findings, you may want to pursue a more thorough approach to your research. If all you want to do is keep track of the main players in each generation, you efforts might not require exhaustive searches. The decision is yours. Be comfortable. (2) What are your go-to research resources? There are plenty to choose from. There are free online websites like Find A Grave, FamilySearch, and the Chronicling America newspaper collection offered by the Library of Congress. Some lineage societies like the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) have free online databases. There are pay sites like Ancestry and FindMyPast that may offer more content, but the cost may be prohibitive to some of us. Keep in mind, however, that online research, although very convenient, may not provide the best records. Many local records found in libraries, courthouses, and funeral homes have not been digitized and aren't online. That means road trips to find the facts you need. Not the worst situation, and one that could prove very valuable to your research. (3) Do you share your search results with others? This is a touchy subject among genealogists. Some of us are more generous than others and are willing to provide our research openly. Others guard their findings like classified war plans. There's no right or wrong choice on this; it's up to each of us what we choose to do. I've heard of people who have willingly shared research with others, only to find it published elsewhere with no attribution to the original source. There are some unethical people among us; we can't change that. Some things I share willingly (my paternal family's cemetery records), others not (some disturbing family secrets). Make a choice you're comfortable with, and review it from time to time to see if you still feel that way. The final two questions (organization and society membership) I'll discuss next month. As always, I hope this article has helped you discover more about yourself and your efforts to learn about your relatives. 09/07/18 TRB

As technology has progressed over the years, more and more information has moved to the Internet and is now available on any number of websites. Genealogy researchers now have more information available to them online than ever before. The major genealogy websites like Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage, FindMyPast and others provide volumes of data to researchers; some of the data is available for free, some is shielded in pay-for-use sites. What are you doing with the results of your research? Are you sharing it with others? Have you published private or public trees on genealogy websites? There is a lot of discussion in social media genealogy groups about public trees. Some people are in favor of them, others are not. One complaint that often surfaces is the other people can change your findings; this has actually happened to me. One way to prevent others from tampering with your research results is to publish your own tree on a website that you control. Some genealogy software programs will create web pages directly from your data, but you'll still need to find a web hosting site. There are some free web hosting sites out there, but I have not used any of them. I have created a website for my family's private cemetery and secured a paid web hosting service; it's a very simple website and the cost is not prohibitive. Another way to publish your genealogy research is to create a blog; there are free sites to do this and blog postings are easy to create and update. Some free sites are Wix.com, WordPress.com, and Weebly.com; again I haven't used any of these, but they are popular and are used by genealogists. Bottom line...consider using the web to publish your own research results. 08/09/18 TRB

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? Changing subjects, 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