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<2007 November>

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# Wednesday, 07 November 2007
Family Tree Firsts—Part One
Posted by Grace

Do you remember the first time you made a records request?

I do—it was yesterday.

When I was growing up, I tagged along on trips to state archives and libraries while my mother and her sisters and mother were researching her family line. But my genealogy experience is limited to that and working here at Family Tree Magazine—which, let's face it, is probably the absolute best way to learn about tracing your family's history.

With every resource at my fingertips (namely, every Family Tree Magazine ever printed and our access), I started to get curious about my Dad's side of the family. I know that most of my great-grandparents emigrated from Eastern Europe, but it gets hazy from there.

My first step (and probably the easiest) was using Steve Morse's One-Step Search tools to see if I could find any of my great-grandparents on any passenger lists. After a brief period of believing my great-grandfather Stanley had changed his name from Wikenty after arriving, I realized that passenger records have two pages and saw that Wikenty was coming to stay with his brother Stanislaw—bingo. (Jumping to conclusions should be the cardinal sin of genealogy.)

I began filling out a printout of our downloadable five-generation pedigree chart with as much information as I knew. Armed with three of my great-grandparents' Social Security numbers (found in the Social Security Death Index) and the requisite forms from the SSA, I mailed off requests for copies of their SS-5 forms, the application for a Social Security number.

And now I wait. With any luck, I'll soon (soon being a relative term) know the real birthdates and birthplaces of my great-grandparents and finally find out their parents' names. In the mean time, I'm really looking forward to the next time I see my grandparents—I have so many questions to ask.

Family Tree Firsts
Wednesday, 07 November 2007 09:47:35 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Tuesday, 06 November 2007 and Peddle Surname Books
Posted by Diane’s BookSurge print-on-demand service is collaborating with to offer the Our Name in History series.

You can pay $29.95 for a book of interesting facts, statistics and commentary about your surname, if it’s one of the 279,000 last names covered in the series. That accounts for nearly 90 percent of US households.

The books' content is based on’s historical records, but don't expect to find information about any particular family.

It's more along the lines of the “Did you know?” tidbits that pop up when you search For example, I’ll look for census records of my great-grandfather and learn “Most Haddad families (47) living in the US in 1920 lived in CT.”

According to the Our Name in History description for a book about my surname (4,872nd most common, says the census bureau), “You'll get a better idea of where people sharing the Haddad name settled and where they may reside today in the United States, Canada, England and other countries.”

If you’re running out of time to pull together those impressive genealogy books you planned on giving relatives for the holidays, one of these surname books could be a somewhat-paler-but-still-sort-of-
related-to-family-history substitute. 

Genealogy Industry
Tuesday, 06 November 2007 12:27:56 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, 05 November 2007
Finding Old High School Yearbooks
Posted by Diane

My high school reunion (I’m not going to tell you which one) was a few weekends ago . I got to page through some old yearbooks and was reminded not only of my lack of skills with a curling iron, but also of yearbooks’ value in genealogical research.

Any descendants I may have, for example, will learn facts such as the name of my high school and the years I attended, and they’ll get a glimpse of my teen-age tendency toward geekiness. Yes, I’m a former member of the newspaper staff, yearbook committee, academic team and drama club set crew. I’m so glad it’s OK to be geeky when you’re a grown-up.

You also can see names of various award winners and, for seniors, the directory with contact information.

Of course, yearbooks show you all those great photos. If you’ve got family pictures of teen-aged relatives with unidentified others, try compare the unknown faces to photos in your ancestor's high school yearbook. Names of friends who signed the book are clues, too.

The yearbooks now available through World Vital Records are from colleges. The following tips for finding high school yearbooks come from the October 2005 Family Tree Magazine. If you know of other yearbook sources, hit Comment and post them:
  • Look up the school online (try a Google search or a site such as Public School Search) to see if it's in operation. Then call the office and ask whether old yearbooks are in the school or alumni office, and ask permission to visit.
  • If you struck out, call libraries and historical societies in the area, which may collect old yearbooks.
  • Next, see if you can find any alumni—even one from your ancestor’s class—through the school’s Web site. (No Web site? Do a Google search such as graduate central high school anytown.) The graduate may be willing to do a lookup. You also can visit genealogical message boards covering that town and ask if anyone has a yearbook.
  • Not many high school yearbooks are online, but sites with collections include the National Yearbook Project and Dead Fred. A Google search may help here, too. Try searching on the high school name plus yearbook genealogy.

Family Tree Magazine articles | Research Tips
Monday, 05 November 2007 10:46:18 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [10]
# Friday, 02 November 2007
History of the Toothpick
Posted by Grace

Here's one before the weekend: A fascinating brief history of the toothpick

Charles Forster, inspired by the hand-carved picks used by Brazilians, saw huge potential in mass-producing wooden toothpicks in the US. He got Boston inventor Benjamin Franklin Sturtevant to create a machine that was capable of producing millions of toothpicks a day by 1870.

The real genius was in Forster's marketing campaign: One of his ploys was to have Harvard men eat at restaurants and demand a toothpick after their meal. They'd make a fuss when none was available, and when the toothpick salesmen came around a few days later, the restaurant managers bought in.

To read the article, click here.

(The Slate article is a kind of condensed version of 's book The Toothpick: Technology and Culture, which can be bought on Amazon.)

Image taken by C R.

Family Heirlooms | Social History
Friday, 02 November 2007 15:36:44 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, 01 November 2007
College Yearbooks on World Vital Records
Posted by Diane

Genealogy database site World Vital Records is partnering with, a company offering online subscription databases of old yearbooks.

That’ll give World Vital Records subscribers access to digitized college yearbook pages from the late 1800s to 1960, containing photos, names, dates and information on school traditions, clubs, Greek life, ROTC, athletics and more.

Yearbooks come from schools such as the University of California, Berkeley, University of Iowa, University of Kansas, University of Michigan, University of Notre Dame, and University of Texas at Austin. Search each school’s yearbook by name, year and other parameters.

World Vital Records is adding yearbook databases one college at a time, and each college's database is available free for 10 days after it's added. After 10 days, it’s available only to subscribers ($49.95 for two years).

To find the free databases, go to the Recently Added Databases page and check the most-recently added content at the very top of the page. Scroll or use your browser’s Find feature (control + F) to find a database of yearbooks from your ancestor’s college.

I searched the University of Texas at Austin yearbooks for my grandfather, who attended during the 20s. My complaint: I couldn’t find where you tell the years of coverage. When matches come up as thumbnail-size page images, you don’t know the publication year until you click to open the page image (the year then appears at the top of your browser). [Update: This has been adjusted so a book's publication year shows up below thumbnail images in your search results.]

Genealogy Web Sites
Thursday, 01 November 2007 08:31:10 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Wednesday, 31 October 2007
Do You Believe in Ghosts?
Posted by Diane

Looking for a scare this Halloween—and not the kind provided by the cute ghosts and goblins who come to the door for candy?

Try reading fellow researchers’ spooky ancestor stories at the Creative Gene blog and Gettysburg Ghost Stories. Or, for a more close-up encounter with the supernatural, visit one of the places listed at or Haunted Cemeteries.

If you suspect specters have taken up residence in your home, advises making sure it’s not just creaky stairs or a drafty window. Then you can hire a professional ghost researcher to find out whether and why spirits are hanging around, and help you make peace with them.

According to a survey by movie rental company Blockbuster, two-thirds of people either believe in ghosts or are willing to entertain the possibility they're real.

No doubt genealogists the world over fervently hope ghosts exist. I know if my ancestors' souls ever show up in my living room, there's  a thing or two I plan to clear up with them.

Genealogy fun
Wednesday, 31 October 2007 08:11:35 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Tuesday, 30 October 2007
Research Ancestors' Accidents and Calamities at GenDisasters
Posted by Diane

You may want to skip this post if you’re one of those people who believe in worst case scenarios.

On the other hand, if you can’t keep yourself from rubbernecking at freeway fenderbenders, set aside a few hours for—a rather pessimistic Web site recommended in the Genealogy Tips column of our local Cincinnati Post.

The free provides excerpts from historical newspaper articles describing calamitous events across America. They're divided into uplifting categories such as Fires, Floods, Train Wrecks, Building Collapses, Mining Disasters . . . you get the idea.

You can search the site by name and state, or browse by disaster type and state. Accounts describe the damage and many name witnesses and those killed.

According to a lengthy report on a 1916 train wreck near Cleveland, Ohio, “Mrs. J. M. Grau, Jerry City, Ohio, Wednesday night guest at the home of Mrs. George E. Reiter, W. Market St., received word that Dr. J. M. Grau was among the number of identified dead of the Amherst catastrophe. Dr. Grau, 51, was on his way to Cleveland aboard the first section of the train, No 86, to visit his brother Frederick.”

Some good news did come out of that accident: Immediately afterward, a Mrs. Mary Maiston gave birth in one of the cars.

Not far away in Alliance, Ohio, June 2, 1886, the Marchand Opera House collapsed in a shower of bricks. Mr. Marchand and a lawyer named Harvey Laughlin escaped by the skin of their teeth, and no lives were lost.

You can help add articles to; see the Help Wanted page for details. And now that I've brightened your day, I'm going out to buy a helmet.

Genealogy Web Sites
Tuesday, 30 October 2007 14:28:34 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, 29 October 2007
StoryCorps: Capturing Oral History
Posted by Allison

You've probably heard of StoryCorps, a national project to record Americans' oral histories for the benefit of future generations. When a StoryCorps MobileBooth stopped in Indianapolis late this summer, Bryn Mooth, editor of our sister magazine HOW, took the opportunity to interview her grandmother. Here she reports on her experiences:

When my grandmother asked if I’d interview her for a project that the public radio station was hosting in her hometown of Indianapolis, I knew she meant StoryCorps. Naturally, I said yes.

I routinely linger in my car, listening to the StoryCorps excerpts aired weekly on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition”—day-brightening audio clips of ordinary people reminiscing about their lives. While I’d often thought it would be neat to visit a StoryCorps recording booth with my 86-year-old grandmother, it seemed unlikely we’d get to the permanent studio in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal. That is, until a StoryCorps MobileBooth rolled into town.

The gleaming Airstream trailer, one of two that travel the United States, was a surprisingly comfortable spot for our 40-minute conversation about Grandma’s life. We sat at a table with two large microphones in front of us; StoryCorps staffer Yuki Aizawa ran a sound check, and then we began.

As with any oral history project, the key is asking the right questions to engage the storyteller. So before our interview, I consulted StoryCorps’ online Question Generator. I typed in our names and our relationship to each other, and the site produced a list of questions about growing up, marriage and raising children, working, war experiences and more. I checked off a dozen questions, then edited and rearranged them. I shared them with Grandma in advance, so we were both comfortable with the direction of our chat.

We talked about her parents, her upbringing, her marriage, her three children. We talked about how she supported herself after my grandfather died. And we talked about her experiences as a “celebrity”: You may know my grandmother as Dave’s Mom, who puts her son firmly in his place during segments on “Late Show with David Letterman.” She described her trips to the Winter Olympic Games in Norway and Japan as a “Late Show correspondent, and her annual Thanksgiving Day appearances on the program.

Grandma couldn’t have imagined her life would take the unusual turns it has. And this 40-minute capsule hardly seems to capture her 86 years. But our StoryCorps session was an important way for us to connect and share. When our interview ended, we received a CD recording, a copy of which will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. What we really walked away with, though, was another fond memory.

Interested in learning more? The StoryCorps Web site offers great resources for gathering oral histories, including a do-it-yourself guide. The site’s Question Generator is helpful, even if you don’t participate. You also can find dates and locations for both MobileBooths.

Want to hear a snippet of the conversation with Dave's Mom? Bryn shares this clip:

story corps piece mengering.mp3 (1.48 MB)

You can hear more of the intriguing, inspiring and often touching interviews captured by StoryCorps on the project Web site or by subscribing to its podcast. Get more oral history tips at and in our March 2008 issue.

Oral History | Social History
Monday, 29 October 2007 09:14:44 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, 26 October 2007
Social Networking Meets Genetic Genealogy
Posted by Diane

The Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF) is combining two of the latest genealogical developments—DNA testing and online social networking—in its partnership with the GeneTree beta Web site.

Users can sign up for a free GeneTree account and create home pages with photos, family trees, multimedia and DNA results. All named ancestors automatically get pages, too, which families can add to. A niftily named tool called DNAvigator searches the SMGF mitochondrial (mt) DNA test results database for matches to yours, then compares the associated lineages and locations, and presents the results “in an intuitive visual representation” like the one here. Matching people can get in touch through GeneTree.

You also can order mtDNA tests, which both men and women can take, through GeneTree. Y-DNA tests will soon be available for men.

Some who contributed DNA samples to the SMGF databases—those who requested test kits before Oct. 22 of this year, and send in their samples before Nov. 22—are eligible to receive their test results for a processing fee. That includes participants back in the early days of the project, when it was hosted by Brigham Young University, says SMGF spokesperson Peggy Hayes. Learn more by calling (800) 344-7643 or e-mailing SMGF.

SMGF, the nonprofit arm of Sorenson Companies, has been collecting researchers’ DNA samples and associated family tree information for years to build its free Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA databases. GeneTree used to offer paternity testing, but now Sorenson's IdentiGene division has taken over that business.

Genealogy Web Sites | Genetic Genealogy
Friday, 26 October 2007 14:11:32 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, 25 October 2007
Find WWII Ancestors in Just-Opened Records
Posted by Diane

It just got easier to find information on your ancestor who served in World War II. This week, the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) opened Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs) of Army, Army Air Corps, Army Air Forces, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard personnel who were discharged, retired or died in the service prior to 1946.

That’s more than six million records documenting assignments, evaluations, awards and decorations, training, demographics, medical information and disciplinary actions. Some files also contain photos of the individual and official correspondence.

You can access your relative’s records by visiting or writing the NPRC in St. Louis, submitting Standard Form 180, or (if you're next of kin) using eVetRecs online ordering. See the NPRC announcement for more details.

The NPRC, a National Archives facility, holds service records of military personnel discharged after 1917. It plans to eventually open its entire collection 57 million OMPFs, with more available to the public each year through 2067.

Libraries and Archives | Military records
Thursday, 25 October 2007 08:43:10 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [5]