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Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Genealogy Q&A Time: The Genealogical Proof Standard
Posted by Diane
Q. What is the Genealogical Proof Standard? Do I need to worry
about it if I research my family history as a hobby?
A. The Genealogical
Proof Standard (GPS) is a set of guidelines the Board for
Certification of Genealogists developed to help researchers draw
sound conclusions about their ancestors. It has five elements:
- Reasonably exhaustive search
- Complete and accurate citation of sources
- Analysis and correlation of the collected information
- Resolution of conflicting evidence
- Soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion
genealogists do a lot of work to show they understand the
GPS, but anyone can use the guidelines to be as sure as possible
they're tracing the right ancestors and sharing accurate
family information. The
GPS is outlined here, with bullet points about how
each element contributes to the credibility of your research.
For example, to conduct a reasonably exhaustive search,
"finding multiple sources for a single piece of information,
such as a birthplace, is key," writes Sunny Jane Morton in the
October/November 2012 Family Tree Magazine guide to
using the GPS.
“If you look at just one source, you won’t see that there’s
more than one possibility for what happened,” Elizabeth Shown
Mills explains in the guide. Mills is the author of source
analysis references including Evidence!
Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian
(Genealogical Publishing Co.).
“We know that when there are
multiple eyewitnesses to an event, the accounts differ," she adds. "In
historical research, there’s no such thing as the final answer.
All we can do is gather the best evidence possible and make a
In following the second element of the GPS, complete and
accurate citation of sources, Mills recommends "For every ‘fact’ we gather, we need to consider why we are
accepting it as ‘fact.’ What is there about this source that
makes it credible?”
Chances are that with your family
commitments, job, volunteering and other activities, you don't
get to spend as much time as you'd like on your genealogy research. Using the
GPS as a guide will help you make sure that the time you can
spend is devoted to researching your ancestors and honoring
their true experiences.
You can purchase Family Tree Magazine's GPS guide as a download here, or Family Tree Plus
members can read it here.
Family Tree University's Source
Analysis One-Week Workshop, April 18-25, will show you how
you can use the Genealogical Proof Standard as you evaluate the
reliability of your genealogical sources, resolve conflicting
information, and draw conclusions about your ancestors' lives. Learn
more about it at FamilyTreeUniversity.com.
Family Tree Magazine articles | Family Tree University | Research Tips
Tuesday, April 15, 2014 12:10:54 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Free Civil War Records on Fold3 Through April 30
Posted by Diane
Historical military records website Fold3 is opening up its Civil War
collection for free from April 14 to 30 in commemoration
of the start of the war in April 1861.
The military collection includes
- service records (Union and Confederate) for soldiers from more than 50 territories and states
- Union pension index cards
- some Union widows’ pension files
- Navy survivors certificates
- Army registers
- court records of compensation to former owners of freed
slaves in Washington, DC
- Southern Claims Commission records
- investigations into subversive activity
- and other records
more about this offer on the Fold3 blog.
Click here to search
Fold3's Civil War records collection.
Fold3 has records of US wars from the Revolutionary War up through
Vietnam, plus nonmilitary records such as city directories,
naturalizations, passport applications, Indian censuses and more.
help finding ancestors on Fold3 in Family Tree Magazine's
downloadable Fold3 Web Guide, available in ShopFamilyTree.com.
more resources for tracing Civil War ancestors in our listing
Civil War | Fold3 | Free Databases | Military records
Tuesday, April 15, 2014 10:28:22 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Genealogy Q&A With Mocavo Chief Scientist Matt Garner
Posted by Diane
We were thrilled when genealogy website Mocavo's
chief scientist, Matt Garner, agreed to be quizzed by Genealogy
Insider columnist Sunny Jane
Morton for the "Five Questions" Q&A in the May/June 2014
Family Tree Magazine (now mailing to subscribers
and coming soon to ShopFamilyTree.com).
Garner has one of the brightest minds in the
genealogy technology field. He leads the team developing "intelligent character recognition" software, which
eventually will be able to "read" handwritten records—making them
(relatively) quickly and easily searchable online.
Journalists typically ask more questions than they think they'll
need, to elicit the most interesting information.
We had a hard time limiting Garner's answers to just five for the magazine, so we're sharing them all here:
You’re the chief scientist at Mocavo now. Do you wear
a lab coat, use test tubes or anything like that?
While my title may conjure up images of Bill Nye, or
perhaps a mysterious, maniacal laugh, it simply means that I
oversee the research and development team at Mocavo. We work on
exciting things like electronically detecting and transcribing
handwriting from historical documents, improving the accuracy of
documents read by optical character recognition (OCR) and
generally using technology to both accelerate the pace and the
usability of historical data that is brought online.
What’s your lab like?
My “laboratory” is pretty amazing: a supercomputer, containing more
than 2,000 high-end CPUs. At the helm, my desk rivals NASA’s mission
control. My walls are covered with additional screens displaying
up-to-the-minute data, surrounded by oversized white boards
containing copious amounts of detailed scribbling from our most
How did you land in the genealogy industry?
I remember spending full days alone in the Family History Library in
Salt Lake City when I was only 9 years old. Every time I have left
the family history industry, my heart finds its way back. I’m just
as passionate about a document that contains hundreds of names as
I am about, say, a handwritten letter that may only relate to a
single individual. I know that to someone, somewhere, that
document has great value.
I’m also passionate about using technology to solve large-scale
challenges and problems. I’ve worked in a number of IT-related
positions and have been lucky to be able to find a number of
positions where both my engineering skills and my passion for
family history have aligned. Every time I have left the family
history industry, my heart finds its way back.
What historical writing style just about drives
you—and the computer—crazy?
Interestingly, it’s modern handwriting that is
disastrous. The advent of the typewriter (and subsequently the
computer) has lowered the standard of handwriting beyond
recognition and utility. Centuries-old handwriting, with a bit of
practice, is still largely legible by both man and machine.
Some of the bigger challenges surround cases where script is
handwritten on preprinted forms and overlaps printed lines and
text on the forms. It is more difficult to read such documents
accurately than freeform, handwritten letters.
What’s the coolest historical document you’ve ever
seen? OR Do you have a favorite historical font, type of writing,
I’m very fascinated by the RMS Titanic. While
working at FindMyPast in London, I was involved in bringing online
the complete, handwritten passenger lists for her fateful voyage.
Also, I later got to take a look at the original, handwritten
personnel file of Edward Smith, her captain, which was from the
personal collection at the private home of the Commodore of the
present day Cunard White Star line.
In a past job you handled credit card megadata.
What’s more fun, Mastercard accounts or genealogical documents?
The last position I held prior to making the jump into
the family history industry was in the Chief Technical Officer
role at a large credit card processing company. I was responsible
for making sure that literally millions of dollars got from point
A to point B on a daily basis and especially, that no
hackers invited themselves into the mix. The security protocols
were stringent and extreme. I was on-call 24/7. The position was
exceptionally stressful and demanding.
I recall once a split-second-long glitch in our system caused a
six-figure sum of our clients’ money to disappear into thin air.
Luckily, after some considerable, and painstaking,
around-the-clock effort, we got every penny back to its rightful
I certainly don’t miss even an ounce of the day-to-day stress of
that much responsibility. Luckily, all the gray hairs I gained
from that position have since regained their color.
What do you do when you’re not at your computer?
I pretty much spend all my spare time entertaining my
twin 3-year-old daughters, which is undoubtedly the highlight of
my day. Other than that, you might run into me at the local home
improvement store. I’m always in the middle of two or three DIY
projects around the house.
You’ve flipflopped between leading companies and
providing brainpower behind the scenes. What role suits you best?
I’ve enjoyed my time at each company in the industry
that I’ve had the privilege of contributing to. Pretty much all of
my roles have been similar—working simultaneously in product
design, software engineering and R&D, in one way or another.
I’ve also founded two of my own companies in the family history
space. Both were acquired by bigger companies in the industry and
became integrated into their respective products.
Much to my wife’s chagrin, I think I really am an entrepreneur at
heart. I prefer small, nimble teams and am always on the lookout
for the next big thing in the industry.
Mocavo features a genealogy search engine, historical records (free to search one collection at a time) and family trees. Want to see how you can find ancestors with Mocavo? Watch Family Tree University's Making the Most of Mocavo video course, available in ShopFamilyTree.com.
5 Questions Plus | Genealogy Web Sites
Tuesday, April 15, 2014 10:01:55 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Friday, April 11, 2014
Genealogy News Corral, April 7-11
Posted by Diane
- The British
Newspaper Archive, a partnership between D.C. Thomson
Family History (owner of the findmypast websites) and the
British Library, has a new, free iPhone app called Here &
Then. It shows you newspaper articles about what happened on
this day in history, amusing news blurbs from history, and
historical news articles related to today's headlines. Download
the app from the iTunes store.
- Findmypast has announced an initiative to release 100 databases
in 100 days. The databases will come from around the world
and so far include the Birmingham Pals WWI battalion, Glasgow
Pals, Liverpool Pals and more. Learn more here. In
related news, subscribers to the British site Findmypast.co.uk
in arms about site updates many say make the site harder
to navigate and search. The new site was rolled out to
international customers over a year ago, but only recently
introduced to UK customers, according to a
Q&A on the problems.
- Professional genealogist and house historian Marian
Pierre-Louis has started a new podcast called The Genealogy
Professional. It provides guidance on running a genealogy
business for professional genealogists and amateur researchers
considering going pro. Shows are broadcast weekly, released
every Monday through the Genealogy
Professional website as well as iTunes and Stitcher.
- British genealogy site Origins.net
has updated its free Devon
Wills Project index to include more than 300,000 Devon
wills from 1164 to 1992. Not all of the original wills
referenced survived WWII bombings; the index tells you whether
an original, copy, transcription or abstract of the will
survives and how to access it. Search
findmypast | Genealogy societies | Podcasts | UK and Irish roots
Friday, April 11, 2014 1:35:22 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, April 09, 2014
Polish Genealogy Research Challenges and Tips
Posted by Diane
If you have Polish ancestors, the country's historical partitions
and border changes have probably presented some genealogy research
challenges. Here's an example of why:
- If your ancestors lived in eastern Poland, records from 1868
to 1917 will be in Russian. Records from 1808 to 1868 generally
should be in Polish.
- As for western Poland, controlled by Germany while Russia
ruled the east, records generally will be in German or Latin
(the language used by the Catholic Church), although you may
find some in Polish.
- In Galicia, the part of the partition ruled by Austria, most
records will be in Latin, although some will be in German and
- The present is almost as confusing: Poland had 49 wojewodztwo,
or provinces, until a January 1999 reorganization. There now are
16. The old provinces frequently had a city with the same name
as the province.
In our Polish
Genealogy Crash Course webinar on Thursday, April 24,
Eastern European genealogy expert Lisa A. Alzo will show you US
records to help you locate your immigrant ancestor's town or
village in Poland, what Polish records you should look for, and
the leading websites and library resources for tracing Polish
You can learn
more about the Polish Genealogy Crash Course and register at
You'll also want to explore
the Polish genealogy websites on this list, and bookmark
this chart of Polish-language genealogy terms.
International Genealogy | Research Tips | Webinars
Wednesday, April 09, 2014 2:18:18 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Cigars and Sewing Machines: Finding My Ancestor's Estate Inventory in Old Court records
Posted by Diane
So this was exciting: I found the estate inventory for my
great-great-grandfather H.A. Seeger, who died Aug. 18, 1923, in Hamilton
County, Ohio, court records digitized on FamilySearch.org.
This collection isn't yet indexed and can't be searched, so I've been browsing. I'm
still trying to figure out how the records are organized, which
according to our upcoming Mastering
Genealogy Research in Court Records online course, can vary by
county and time period.
Many of the volumes have indexes in the front (usually grouped by
first letter of the last name, and then sometimes by first letter
of the first name). In slowly clicking through volumes around
dates of family marriages, deaths and other events, I found H.A.
named in the index of an inventory record volume for 1923. I went to
the page number listed.
The estate inventory separates the contents of H.A.'s cigar
store, which one of his sons took over, from the household goods
in the residence above the store.
He owned $230 in store inventory and equipment, including "2 doz.
Lucky Strike," "14. pkg. Old Va. cheroots," "lot miscellaneous
stogies" and $15 in penny candies.
In the house was a chiffonier (I had to look this up—it's a high
chest of drawers, which may be the one now in my uncle's house), a
sewing machine (probably belonging to H.A.'s wife, who died in
1916, or one of their daughters) and other goods, totaling $54.25
The inventory also listed bank accounts worth $110.58 and $210.70
(about $4,411.14 in today's money, according to the CPI inflation
The inventory was notarized Oct. 1, 1923, and filed the next day.
Now I'm looking for a will and other probate documents, and I'll
use the information in the four-week Mastering
Genealogy Research in Courthouse Records online course to
help speed up my search. The course isn't just about finding
records online, but also what you can find at the courthouse in nondigitized
records. It's great for starting your foray into these richly
detailed, but often intimidating, genealogical records.
For expert advice on using the free collections at FamilySearch.org—including the unindexed, not-searchable ones—check out our webinar 10 Simple Strategies for Using FamilySearch.org, happening Wednesday, April 16.
court records | Family Tree University | FamilySearch | Research Tips
Wednesday, April 09, 2014 2:14:35 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Friday, April 04, 2014
Genealogy News Corral, March 31-April 4
Posted by Diane
- Genealogy website MyHeritage
has added the Jewish Chronicle, the world's oldest continuously
published Jewish newspaper, to its SuperSearch subscription
collections. MyHeritage has more than 200,000 digitized pages of
the London-based newspaper, dating back to 1841.
Additional Jewish records now being added include the
Israel Genealogy Research Association databases (1860-1890) and
Avelim (Israel death notices). Read
more about these additions on the MyHeritage blog.
- The Statue
of Liberty—Ellis Island Foundation (SOL-EIF) said in a
fundraising email that it will expand its collection of free
ships' passenger lists on
the EllisIsland.org website, with help from FamilySearch.
The site will add records from 1925 to 1957 to its current
collection, which spans 1892 to 1924. Ellis Island was open from
1892 until 1954, but immigration plummeted in 1924 due to the National
Origins Act. The site now holds 25 million names; about 11
million are immigrants and others are ships' crew members and
Americans returning from abroad.
- If I could go back to my youth, I would totally beg my
parents to let me do this: The National Archives building in
Washington, DC, will host summer and fall sleepovers
for children ages 8 to 12. Kids will have fun learning about
historical records, then spend the night in the National
Archives Rotunda. Registration opens in mid-May. Learn more
immigration records | Jewish roots | MyHeritage | NARA
Friday, April 04, 2014 11:40:23 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
View and "Warp" Old Maps Using NYPL's New, Free Map Warper
Posted by Diane
The New York Public Library (NYPL) has launched a new online tool called the Map Warper, which lets you
overlay an old map onto a modern map and digitally rectify the two.
The Map Warper gives you access to more than 20,000 digitized historical
maps depicting places around the world. You don't need to log in to
view maps, overlay them, or see already-rectified versions. With an account, you
can add your own "control points," which are points that match up on
the old map and the corresponding modern map. A map must have at
least three control points to be rectified.
I searched for a map of Cincinnati and found one from 1860.
I created an NYPL account and used the Rectify tab to add a control
point where my Ladenkotter third-great-grandparents lived in 1860.
The map already had other control points, so I added only the one.
Then I clicked Warp Image, let the Warper finished working, and
clicked Preview Rectified Map:
You can zoom in and adjust the transparency. Here's a closeup of
where the Ladenkotters lived, at Abigail (spelled "Abagail" here;
it's now E. 12th) and Spring. It's just below and to the right of the 9.
You can click the Export tab to download a copy of the original or warped map.
The Map Warper website also has a four-minute video
tutorial on using the Warper.
Libraries and Archives | Maps
Friday, April 04, 2014 10:30:27 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
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)