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<2009 October>

More Links

# Friday, 16 October 2009
Genealogy News Corral: October 12-16
Posted by Diane

Here are some of the news items we've rounded up this week:
  • I read an interesting post on the Archives Next blog about NARA’s record digitization agreements with firms such as Footnote and The blogger outlines possible good, bad and ugly outcomes when NARA is finally legally able to post online the record images obtained through contracts with third parties. 
  • Pedigree database subscription site OneGreatFamily ($59.95 per year) plans to improve its search function by installing the Perfect Search Database Search Appliance from Perfect Search Corp. Each week, OneGreatFamily makes more than 18.8 trillion comparisons of names, dates and other details in members’ family trees, says CEO Alan Eaton. The new search tool should increase searching capability, improve indexing, and to deliver results faster.
  • The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) has added several genealogical journals to its online subscription ($75 per year): Besides its own New England Historical and Genealogical Register, they are The American Genealogist, The Connecticut Nutmegger, New Netherland Connections and The Virginia Genealogist.
  • Also from NEHGS: Fellow actors, Boston natives, best buddies and  People magazine sexiest men alive Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are 10th cousins once removed. Their common ancestor is William Knowlton of Ipswich, Mass., a bricklayer who died in 1655. Read the full story in the Boston Herald.
Family Tree Magazine Plus members can read our article about Matt Damon’s roots—including his link to Ralph Waldo Emerson—here

Celebrity Roots | Genealogy societies | Genealogy Web Sites | Libraries and Archives
Friday, 16 October 2009 14:49:28 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, 15 October 2009
Announcing Family Tree Magazine Plus!
Posted by Diane

Along with our Web site’s new look unveiled a couple of weeks ago, we started something else: Family Tree Magazine Plus, an online membership that gives you access to archived articles from the print Family Tree Magazine.

That’s nine years’ worth of advice on researching ancestors from around the world and in the United States, help finding and using genealogy records, recommendations for genealogy Web sites and books, guidance on researching and preserving photos and heirlooms, product and Web site reviews, ways to celebrate your heritage, and more.

In addition, Plus members will get access to new articles when an issue is published, as well as exclusive content that’s not in the print magazine (such as decorative family tree charts that I’ll post about next week).

The cost is $39.99 per year or $5.99 per month. Check out our money-saving VIP program, too, which includes the Plus membership, a year’s subscription to the print Family Tree Magazine, an automatic discount at and other goodies.

(Genealogy Insider newsletter subscribers will get a special message about the VIP program this weekend.)

Of course, much of our site is still freely accessible by anyone. We’ll still add new free content, and all the articles and forms that were free before are still free.

When you search using the search box in the top right corner, you’ll get a list of both Plus and free article titles that match your search.

Next to articles that are part of the Plus membership, you’ll see a green plus icon. Here’s an example:

The Sort By Menu at the top of the results lets you sort the list of articles by Plus/Free (the free articles will then be listed after the Plus articles).

You can click on a Plus article title to read the first paragraph or two, which looks something like this:

Click one of the “Join Plus” buttons to start a membership. Or, if you're a Plus member and you're logged in, you'll see the whole article.

Plus articles show up right on the Web site—no need to download anything.

There’s also a printer-friendly link at the end of every Plus and free article, so you can easily take articles with you to the library.

For a shortcut to starting a Plus membership, just click the orange Join now! button on our home page.

We’re glad to be able to offer this convenient, online way to access the tips and resources in past issues of Family Tree Magazine. If you prefer a more-traditional way to get your genealogy how-to information, though, you can download many back issues and individual articles as PDFs from Most recent back issues are still available in print, too.

Family Tree Magazine articles | Genealogy Web Sites | Research Tips
Thursday, 15 October 2009 11:00:35 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 14 October 2009
Vital Records Research Tips
Posted by Allison

I've been thinking a lot about vital records lately, while working on our next webinar with presenter Lisa Louise Cooke: Vital Records: Researching Your US Ancestors' Births, Marriages and Deaths Online.

While I've got this topic on the brain, I thought I'd share a few tips with you:
  • US vital records access and coverage varies from state to state. Each state has its own rules  and regulations, but for privacy reasons, death records are  usually  closed to the public for around 50 years, and birth records for 75 to 100 years. But you can sometimes get these records for genealogical purposes if you can prove a relationship.
  • Some states started state-level vital record keeping later than  others—in certain cases, well into the 1900s. But many counties started recording vital statistics  decades  or even centuries before the  state  mandated it. Look for those records at state archives and through the Family History Library.
This is good background knowledge to frame your expectations for your vital records research. Lisa's going to get more specific in the webinar, and demonstrate web sites that can help you get to your ancestors' records.

The webinar will take place next Wednesday, Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. Eastern (that's 6 Central, 5 Mountain, 4 Pacific). You can read more about the session and register on

Vital Records | Webinars
Wednesday, 14 October 2009 14:21:01 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
Allen County Library Digitizes Abe Lincoln's Life
Posted by Diane

Staff at one of genealogy’s best-known libraries are digitizing some extra-special records.

Last December, the Indiana State Museum and the Allen County (Ind.) Public Library—whose Genealogy Center is the largest public library genealogy collection in the United States—got word they’d receive the 230,000-piece collection of Fort Wayne’s Lincoln Museum. That museum closed in June, 2008.

Abraham Lincoln lived with his family in Perry (now Spencer) County, Ind., from 1816 to 1830. (The home site is a national memorial.)

The Indiana organizations were selected to receive the collection over a formidable-sounding coalition consisting of the Library of Congress, National Museum of American History, Ford’s Theatre and President Lincoln’s Cottage.

The Allen County library's on-site digital capability helped keep the collection in Fort Wayne, according to a News Sentinel article.

The library will house manuscripts, books, photographs, maps, pamphlets and periodicals from the collection, including genealogical materials on the Lincoln and Hanks (Abraham Lincoln's maternal line) families and Mary Todd Lincoln's “insanity file” (in 1875, she was briefly committed to an asylum). More than 20,000 items will be digitized.

You can view 75 images from the collection on the Allen County library's web site. Library staff also also will dig up historical research so online searchers can get the story behind each item.

Artifacts, such as Lincoln’s wallet and the chair in which he posed for many photos, are at the Indiana State Museum. You'll see some displayed in two Lincoln exhibits to open next year on Feb. 12 (Lincoln’s birthday).

Think you're related to Lincoln or another US first family? Check out our list of books on presidential genealogy.

Celebrity Roots | Libraries and Archives | Social History
Wednesday, 14 October 2009 14:12:46 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 13 October 2009
Announcing Our 2009 Difference Maker of the Year!
Posted by Diane

If you’ve used USGenWeb, RootsWeb, a genealogy society library, the databases on FamilySearch Record Search Pilot, the Ellis Island passenger database, Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, the photos on Dead Fred, or innumerable other resources and organizations, you’ve been helped by a stranger who just wanted to make it easier for people to find their ancestors.

Nope, your average genealogist wouldn’t get very far without relying on the work of volunteers.

Which is why we started our Difference Maker series—to highlight the efforts of all these unknown volunteers. Family Tree Magazine readers nominated volunteers throughout the year, and we profiled one nominee in each issue. Then readers voted, and the results are in—our 2009 Difference Maker of the Year is Gail Reynolds of Myrtle Beach, SC.

Voters told us how this library volunteer and genealogy instructor has made a difference in their research. “She’ll get you maybe not through that brick wall, but under it or over it. She’ll go to immeasurable lengths to help you—and enjoy every moment.”

Reynolds will receive a year’s subscription to Family Tree Magazine and $100 toward her favorite genealogy cause.

We’re proud of all the genealogy volunteers you’ve met in the magazine this year. In addition to Reynolds, they are:
  • Ellen Thompson, collecting history of local schools
  • Robin Dickson, volunteering and indexing records at her library
  • John Jackson, creating a virtual cemetery for Civil War soldiers
  • Susan Steele, preserving historical insurance records
  • Bennie W. White, compiling records and posting resources free online
Read more about the 2009 Difference Makers on

Family Tree Magazine articles
Tuesday, 13 October 2009 11:32:14 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, 12 October 2009
History Next Door
Posted by Diane

Staying up late the night before you return to work after a vacation does not prolong the vacation.

I’m trying to jump back in the saddle after leaf-peeping in Maine and New Hampshire (with a side trip to the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory in Waterbury, Vt.), and sightseeing in Boston.

Having grown up in a Midwestern suburb, I find it remarkable that some people leave their homes or offices every day and walk by a 350-year-old cemetery, or the meeting hall where the assembly began that resulted in the 1773 Boston Tea Party, or the church where patriots hung two lanterns in 1775 to warn colonists that British soldiers were on the way.

One stop on the Freedom Trail, which links Boston sites instrumental to the Revolution, is Copp’s Hill Burying Ground in the North End, just up the hill from the Old North Church.

The oldest surviving inscription on a stone at Copp's Hill is for the two-week-old son of David Copp and his wife, Obedience. The baby died Dec. 22, 1661.

An informational marker pointed out interesting gravestones, including this one, created from another, previously carved gravestone. You can see the old inscription, upside-down on the back:

And here’s the front of the reused stone, marking the grave of Theodore James, who died Sept. 25, 1815:

It’s hard to tell in this photo, but the inscription on Mary Waters’ tombstone gives the names of her husband when she died and her former husband.

You can search Copps Hill interments at Find-a-Grave.

You can read Copp’s Hill historical markers online at the Historical Marker Database. Start with this one, then click the links under Other Nearby Markers.

For Lisa Louise Cooke's demo on using photo-editing software to improve the readability of your gravestone photos, see our video page.

Ask and answer cemetery research questions in Family Tree Magazine’s Cemetery Central Forum (note you must register with the Forum to post).

Cemeteries | Social History
Monday, 12 October 2009 11:27:09 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, 09 October 2009
Stupid Inventions of the Past
Posted by Grace

From LIFE magazine (who knew it was still around?), a slideshow of 30 dumb inventions. I'd like to think my ancestors survived being put in a baby cage.

Genealogy fun | Social History
Friday, 09 October 2009 12:14:30 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
Michelle Obama's Slave Ancestry Video
Posted by Allison

As we reported earlier, our friend and professional genealogist Megan Smolenyak appeared on CBS' Early Show this morning to talk about Michelle Obama's slave ancestry.

Though perhaps not unique among slave descendants, the stories Smolenyak uncovered about Obama's ancestors Melvinia and Delphus are certainly interesting. Here's the video of the CBS interview:

African-American roots | Celebrity Roots
Friday, 09 October 2009 11:40:18 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, 08 October 2009
Genealogist Finds Michelle Obama's Slave Ancestor
Posted by Grace

Family Tree Magazine contributor Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak and The New York Times have uncovered documents revealing first lady Michelle Obama's great-great-great-grandmother, a slave named Melvinia. Through probate records, photographs and local histories, the sleuths have pieced together a picture of the life of Melvinia, who labored on farms in Georgia and South Carolina, and her first son, Dolphus—Obama's great-great-grandfather—who became a carpenter and owned his own business in Birmingham, Ala.

The story is absolutely fascinating. You can learn more about it in The New York Times, in ABC's news report, and make sure you watch the below video from Roots Television.

African-American roots | Celebrity Roots | Female ancestors | Videos
Thursday, 08 October 2009 12:36:44 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Wednesday, 07 October 2009
First International Black Genealogy Summit Coming this Month
Posted by Grace

October brings an exciting first in African-American genealogical history. The International Black Genealogy Summit (IBGS) Oct. 29-31 at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Ind., will be the first mass gathering of all black historical and genealogical societies in the US, Canada and the Caribbean.

"Pulling all the black genealogy societies together has never been done," says conference co-chair Algurie Wilson. "We've all met in our own backyards, but not together. But I've got people coming from everywhere."

IBGS kicks off with a free Thursday pre-conference with workshops, a movie, and extended research hours. Friday and Saturday will be packed with lectures, exhibitors, vendors, and social time (download the schedule here).

"In the workshops, we'll be talking about all the genealogical resources we have," says Wilson. "But besides the workshops, there's great camaraderie. I'm especially looking forward to the banquet and luncheon. We're encouraging African attire. There will be so many beautiful colors. The atmosphere in the room will just be bubbling. I'm also getting an African dance troupe—nobody knows about that yet! I can't wait to hear the keynote speakers, too."

Friday evening's speaker will be Dorothy Spruill Redford, author and nationally recognized interpreter of the African family experience in the South. Hana Stith, curator of the African/African-American Historical Museum in Fort Wayne, will speak at a Saturday luncheon.

Wilson has been encouraged by enthusiastic response despite the difficult economy. "When I talk to someone on the phone and hear their excitement, I realize this is why we're doing it. I've got someone coming on the bus for 17 hours. I'm going to buy that person a drink! That tells you how important it is for us to put this event on."

To Wilson, this event is all about people—both past and present. "I tell new researchers, 'You want to talk to the person next to you. You might find someone looking for the same family tree. You never know what you can discover and more importantly, who you can discover.'"

If you're interested in attending IBGS, visit the conference registration page for more information.
—Sunny McClellan Morton

African-American roots | Genealogy Events | Genealogy societies
Wednesday, 07 October 2009 14:35:08 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]