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Tuesday, April 01, 2014
8 Ways To Know It's Time To Start Writing Your Family History
Posted by Diane
We research our ancestors for lots of reasons. For me, it's so
they'll be known and remembered—not just by me, but also by my
Lots of us genealogists have a goal to write our family history.
It's one of the best ways to organize research finds, draw conclusions, and neatly package our family history
(instead of delivering it in a pile of records, notes and sources).
But we can't wait until we're "finished" researching to start
writing. All genealogists know you never finish researching: There
are always more relatives to discover and brick walls in
the way. So how do you know when it's time to start writing? Here are eight tipoffs:
1. People are curious. For me, it was
when people in my dad's family started asking about my research. I
brought my binder of records (this was before I kept most documents
digitally) to a family gathering. I promised copies to my aunts, and
it occurred to me that I should add some context. Their paternal
line was small enough that I could write
a simple narrative in a Word document (here's
more on that), put it on CDs with PDFs and JPGs of
records, and hand them out at Christmas.
2. An important anniversary is coming up. Your parents'
Golden wedding anniversary, or a 25th annual family reunion, is a
great occasion to put together some form of a family history book.
Or consider current events: The upcoming WWI centennial is an
opportunity to share the stories of ancestors of that era.
You don't have to write a complete family history—you could undertake one of these smaller,
more manageable family history projects. Just give yourself
enough time for whatever you plan to do.
3. You've found a story that wants to be told. Maybe your
Civil War ancestor's pension record is a windfall of information
about his experiences, your father or grandfather told you
about surviving the Great Depression, or you strongly identify with
your pioneer great-grandmother. My grandfather who died before I was
born grew up in an orphanage and put himself through college. These
stories hold important lessons.
4. You're at a brick wall. You might think you have to break
through the brick wall first, but this is actually one of the best
times to start writing. Writing about a research problem will help
you analyze what you've found and come
up with new ideas. Plus, if you wait until you solve every question, you might never
start writing. You might even invoke Murphy's Law of Genealogy: The
moment you finish writing your family story, you'll find the record
you've been after for years.
5. You solved a brick wall or achieved a research goal. If
you finally found your immigrant ancestor's passenger record or
identified a mystery photo, celebrate by writing that story and how
you solved the problem. It'll help you take stock of your research
and figure out your next goal.
6. You need a break. If you're feeling burned out on
doing research, or you need to refocus, stop looking for new
information. Instead, look through everything you already have and
7. You feel like you should be writing this stuff down.
If you have a nagging feeling that you should be writing about the
family history you've learned, there's a reason for it. Obey the
voice in your head!
8. You've done some research. You can start writing a
story at any point—no need to wait until your family tree is
yay big. If you've only gotten to your grandparents, write about
them. Or go closer to home and write how your parents met, or how
you met your spouse.
In fact, this may be the best way to do it. As you continue
researching, connect these smaller stories together and you'll have
an ongoing narrative of your family history.
Your Family History Value Pack has books and lessons to help
you plan out and work on your family history book writing project.
And if you need guidance on managing source information and
citations in your research and writing project, look into our Family
Tree University Source Analysis one-week online genealogy workshop,
April 18-25, with professional genealogist Michael Hait.
Family Tree University | saving and sharing family history
Tuesday, April 01, 2014 10:14:32 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
6 April Fool's Day Pranks From History
Posted by Diane
Tales of April Fool's Day origins vary. Some say the tradition
of playing pranks began about 1562 in France. Pope Gregory
introduced the Gregorian Calendar, with the year starting on Jan
1 instead of April 1, but some hadn't heard of or didn't believe the
date change. When they still celebrated the new year on April 1,
their more enlightened countrymen played tricks on them and called
them April Fools.
Today we might set all the clocks ahead two hours or put confetti in
a spouse's umbrella (or create
an imaginative magazine cover). On a grand scale, some of my
favorite April Fool's Day pranks from history include:
1933: The Madison Capital-Times newspaper reported
that the state capitol collapsed due to explosions from gases
produced by the debates of state politicians. The article was
complete with a doctored photo showing the capitol dome askew.
1949: New Zealand radio announcer Phil Shone told listeners
a mile-wide wasp swarm was headed for Auckland. He urged them
to take precautions such as wearing socks over their pants and
leaving traps outside their doors. Hundreds complied.
1957: The BBC news show Panorama announced a bumper spaghetti
crop in Switzerland, with footage of farmers pulling spaghetti
strands from trees. Viewers who called the BBC asking how to grow
their own spaghetti trees were advised to "place a sprig of
spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best."
1976: An astronomer said during a BBC Radio 2 interview that
at 9:47 a.m., Pluto would pass behind Jupiter, causing a phenomenon
that would reduce the Earth's gravity. Anyone who jumped at the
exact moment of the planetary alignment would feel a floating
sensation. Hundreds claimed to have felt this sensation.
1977: This one is close to my editor's heart: Britain's Guardian
newspaper published a seven-page supplement about an Indian Ocean
holiday spot called San
Serriffe. The two main islands, Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse,
resembled a semicolon, with towns such as Bodoni and Garamondo, a
leader named Gen. Maria-Jesu Pica, and a national bird called the
Kwote. Guinness, Texaco and Kodak ran ads. Readers called the
paper's offices all day for more information, and travel agencies
and airlines complained that customers were insisting on vacationing
in the islands. The San Serriffe Liberation Front even wrote the Guardian
editor protesting the paper's pro-government slant.
1996: Taco Bell took out full-page ads in major newspapers,
announcing the company had bought the Liberty Bell and renamed it
the Taco Liberty Bell. The Independence
National Historical Park in Philadelphia, which houses the
Liberty Bell, was flooded with angry calls.
I don't have any stories of pranksters in my family. How about you?
Genealogy fun | Social History
Tuesday, April 01, 2014 8:18:26 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Family Tree Magazine's Skimpiest Issue Ever!
Posted by Diane
Tuesday, April 01, 2014 7:25:42 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Friday, March 28, 2014
Genealogy News Corral, March 24-28
Posted by Diane
Online registration is now open for the 2014 Federation of
Genealogical Societies (FGS) Conference, happening Aug.
27-30 in San Antonio. Register
by July 1 for the early-bird discount. I'm especially excited
for this one because my dad's dad's family lived for a time in
Texas, although conference sessions—taught by many of the experts
whose books, blogs and Family Tree Magazine articles you
read—will cover topics to help you research across the United States
and abroad. Learn more about
the FGS 2014 conference, read the conference blog and register
Registration also is open for the Indiana
Historical Society's 2014 Midwestern Roots conference, Aug.
1-2 in Indianapolis, Ind. Coincidentally, my dad's mom's family is
from the Hoosier State. Among the speakers will be Genealogy Gems' Lisa Louise Cooke (who is
presenting a pre-conference Great Google Earth Game Show on July
31), Allen County Public
Library Genealogy Center Director Curt Witcher, professional
genealogist Amy Johnson
Crow and other experts. Learn
more about the Midwestern Roots 2014 conference and register here.
The Archivist at Pennsylvania's Bethany Children's home,
which was established in 1867 and remains in operation today,
emailed to let me know that MOcavo has digitized and indexed the
home's early records. They're in three collections called
Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania, Bethany Children's Home Book of Children
One Index, Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania, Bethany Children's Home Book of
Children Two Index, and Bethany Children's Home Book of Life Index.
On Mocavo, you can search and view records in one collection at a
time for free. With a subscription, you can search and view
records from multiple collections simultaneously. Learn
more about the Bethany Children's Home records on Mocavo's blog.
The Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is launching a portal to give
you access to photos
from residential schools dating from 1885 to 1996. The LAC
notes that 150,000 Aboriginal children attended more than 130
residential schools around the country. You already can see
65 photos from schools in Alberta, and you'll be able to find
more photos by province or territory as they become available.
Descriptions are included with dates, school names and locations
when available (so far I haven't found any names of students shown
Canadian roots | Free Databases | Genealogy Events | Genealogy societies | Genealogy Web Sites
Friday, March 28, 2014 10:24:00 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Findmypast to Digitize 1939 Register of England and Wales
Posted by Diane
Findmypast.co.uk website owners DC Thomson Family History today announced plans to digitize the 1939 Register of
England and Wales over the next two years.
The British government created the register to record information
about citizens as of Sept. 29, 1939, as WWII broke out in Europe. It
was used to issue identity cards and ration books, and later formed
the basis of National Health Service records.
The register contains an individuals' full name, addresses, date of
birth, sex, marital status and occupation, and also notes changes of
The 1.2 million digital images in the 1939 Register collection will
become searchable on findmypast.co.uk within the next two years.
Information about living individuals, however, will be kept closed
for 100 years from their year of birth, or until proof of death has
You can read more about
this project and register to get updates here.
Learn how to locate the place your English ancestors came from with our video class Hedgerow Genealogy: A Three-Step Strategy for Finding English Origins, presented by English genealogy expert J. H. Fonkert.
findmypast | UK and Irish roots
Thursday, March 27, 2014 9:52:17 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
What Does Your Last Name Mean? How to Find Out
Posted by Diane
Ancestral Names Value Pack made me curious about my family
surnames and whether things I heard growing up about
where a name is from or what it means are true. Here's how I checked
out a few of the names I'm researching:
- Haddad: My maiden name, inherited from my
great-grandparents who immigrated in 1900, is the Lebanese
equivalent to Smith. I Googled surname Haddad and one of
the results was this
- Seeger: I looked up this name, which comes from my
German ancestor H.A. Seeger, in the last name search on
Ancestry.com, which uses surname meanings and origins from
the Oxford Dictionary of American Family Names (a
reference you also might be able to find in a library). It also
maps where in the United States most people with that name
lived. The name is German and Dutch, "from the Germanic personal
This name, which belonged to my Irish third-great-grandfather
Edward Norris, is a place-based name for someone from the North
or who lived on the north side of a settlement. It also could be
a French occupational name for a nurse. According to the Irish
Times' mid-1800s surname distribution search, most
Norrises lived in County Waterford, with next-door Tipperary and
Kilkenny as runners-up. Family lore says Edward came from County
Cork, which also is on the list and borders Waterford.
- Frost: This surname, from my English
third-great-grandfather, gives me fits in online searches.
Besides all the weather reports, it's a pretty common name. It
helps to add place names, genealogy and -weather
or -winter to my searches. The name could be English,
German, Danish or Swedish, and it's based on a nickname for
someone "of an icy and unbending disposition or who had white
- Reuter: Google wants to show me Reuters news reports
if I forget quotation marks (as in "Reuter") when searching for
this name online. It's a German name, possibly for "someone who
lived in a clearing or an occupational name for a clearer of
- Ladenkotter/Ladenkoetter: Does anyone have ideas about
this German name? It's not in
the Oxford Dictionary of American Family Names or on
surname sites, and web searches turn up mostly my own posts. I
even tried typing the name into Google translate to
see if it means anything in German (it doesn't). On the plus
side, it's unusual, and just about any Ladenkoetter records
I find are for a relative. Update: If you have German roots, the comments about this name's origins (including one from A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your Germanic Ancestors coauthor Ernest Thode) are insightful. Thank you to Mr. Thode, K. Hewett and Fawn!
Here are seven
more surname research tips from FamilyTreeMagazine.com.
Ancestral Names Value Pack has resources for searching names,
understanding naming patterns, figuring out how surnames changed
over time, and discovering surname origins and meanings. Learn more
about it in ShopFamilyTree.com.
Ancestry.com | German roots | Research Tips
Tuesday, March 25, 2014 2:57:22 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Genealogy Tips for Tracing Female Ancestors
Posted by Diane
March is Women's History
Month, so it seems a good time to share tips and facts from Legal Genealogist Judy
G. Russell's "Female Ancestors and the Law" chat for our
Family Tree University Virtual Genealogy Conference last month.
You can get in-depth advice on researching women in your family in
Female Ancestors Family Tree University course, which starts
Monday, March 24. We also have a Discover
Your Female Ancestors value pack with an Independent Study
version of that course, plus a video class, a cheat sheet and
- Judy opened the chat with this interesting tidbit: Under common law, a girl could be betrothed
at age 7. She was entitled to dower at age 9. She couldn’t
choose a guardian until she was 14 or serve as executrix until
17, and wasn’t of full age until 21. But she could be married
off at age 12.
- A married woman was called a feme
covert, which literally means a woman hidden behind the
identity of her husband.
- Judy recommended Black's
Law Dictionary as a good resource for finding out
what laws governed women's lives in the places your ancestors
lived. It was first published in 1891, and you can see the 2nd edition,
published in 1910, for free here. Look for printed
editions at large libraries and law libraries.
- A widowed woman would have to be named guardian of her own
children in a probate court, or the court might name a male
relative to look after the children's inherited property (even
if they still lived with their mother).
- An underage woman usually had to have a male guardian's
permission to marry. Look for a record with the couple's
- Early divorces often had to be approved by state legislatures;
look for these records in legislative records (usually at a
- Prenuptial agreements, often found with deeds or court
records, weren't uncommon, even early on.
- Land records are excellent for researching
women. A husband had to sell land, even if the wife had
inherited it from her father, but the wife had to sign off on
it. That's called her "dower" right (not to be confused with a
dowry), and it was intended to provide some means of support
for a woman whose husband had died.
- "Property" transfers of slaves,
usually in chancery or equity courts, also can be a source of
information on female heirs.
- Chat participants have had luck finding maiden names in
children's birth, marriage and death records; and in male
ancestors' wills. Several said that
sons in their families received the mother's maiden name as a
I also wanted to share this
post from the New York History Blog, about a New York law, in
effect until March 20, 1860, that kept
married women from having any legal control over money they
- One chatter reminded us not to assume that someone listed by
initials in a record (such as M.A. Smith) is male.
where you can find out about our Fall 2014 Virtual Genealogy
Conference, happening Sept. 19-21.
Female ancestors | Research Tips | ShopFamilyTree.com Sales
Tuesday, March 18, 2014 3:31:53 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
New Genealogy Webinars: Make Evernote Effortless & Using DNA To Solve Family Mysteries
Posted by Diane
I wanted to make sure you know about two webinar learning
opportunities we have coming up, on using Evernote for family history and on genetic genealogy:
The first one, this Thursday, is Making Evernote Effortless
with Lisa Louise Cooke. An expert on using Evernote to organize
research and streamline workflow, Lisa will talk about
source citations in Evernote
- accessing your Evernote notes
faster with tools like shortcuts and quick keys
- sharing notes
- hacking the mobile version to add
the web clipper to your tablet's web browser
You'll learn how to use Evernote to stop researching haphazardly and start organizing your approach and your
findings. Click here to register.
Next Thursday, March 27, we have Using DNA To Solve Family Mysteries
with the Genetic Genealogist blogger, Blaine Bettinger. He'll
Blaine has written on genetic genealogy for Family
Tree Magazine, and I have to say he's a very good explainer
of things—great at turning complicated genetic genealogy
information into concepts my brain can wrap itself around.
- understand more about genetic genealogy
- figure out
which test to take to solve which types of research problems
- how to interpret your test results
Click here to find out more and register.
Genealogy Apps | Genetic Genealogy | Webinars
Tuesday, March 18, 2014 1:37:54 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Monday, March 17, 2014
Talking in German Genealogy, Digital Libraries & More in Our Free March Podcast
Posted by Diane
In the March
2014 free Family Tree Magazine podcast, host Lisa Louise Cooke talks
with German genealogy expert James M. Beidler about tracing
German-speaking ancestors. Jim shares tips from his new book, The
Family Tree German Genealogy Guide.
Podcast listeners also can tour of the Digital
Public Library of America (DPLA) website with DPLA executive
director Dan Cohen, and get tips on unpuzzling US county boundary
changes with Family Tree Magazine contributing editor David
Lisa also chats with Family Tree Magazine publisher Allison
Dolan and myself about solving genealogy research problems.
This Family Tree Magazine Podcast episode is sponsored by EpiGenealogy, a research
service for tracing family health history. Host Lisa Louise Cooke is
the founder of the Genealogy
Gems website and podcast.
You can listen in iTunes or on
Click here for show
notes, which include handy links to the websites mentioned.
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Genealogy Web Sites | German roots | Research Tips
Monday, March 17, 2014 10:38:40 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Friday, March 14, 2014
Genealogy News Corral, March 10-14
Posted by Diane
Orders for FamilySearch microfilm and microfiche numbered above
1,881,705 will be restricted for a two-week period in early April.
Half a million rolls of film plus numerous microfiche cabinets at
the Granite Mountain vault will be relocated into newly renovated
space. As a result, the Family History Library won't be able to
order the affected film and fiche. Film and fiche numbered below
1,881,705 can be ordered as usual. Read
the notice on the FamilySearch blog.
Planning research at the National Archives in Washington, DC, or
College Park, Md., in April? You might be able to plan your itinerary around
one of the archives' free genealogy programs, such as an
introduction to research in the archives' records (April 2),
nonpopulation censuses (April 16), tracing immigrants from the
West Indies (April 17), or a "Help! I'm Stuck" consultation (April
times and locations on the National Archives' website.
FamilySearch | Free Databases | NARA
Friday, March 14, 2014 1:34:00 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)