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<2014 April>

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# Tuesday, 15 April 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

Certified 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 decision.”

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

Family Tree Magazine articles | Family Tree University | Research Tips
Tuesday, 15 April 2014 12:10:54 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
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

Read 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. Get help finding ancestors on Fold3 in Family Tree Magazine's downloadable Fold3 Web Guide, available in

Find more resources for tracing Civil War ancestors in our listing on

Civil War | Fold3 | Free Databases | Military records
Tuesday, 15 April 2014 10:28:22 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
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

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 recent brainstorm.

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, etc?

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 owner.

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

5 Questions Plus | Genealogy Web Sites
Tuesday, 15 April 2014 10:01:55 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Friday, 11 April 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 are up 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 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 here.

findmypast | Genealogy societies | Podcasts | UK and Irish roots
Friday, 11 April 2014 13:35:22 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Wednesday, 09 April 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 Polish.
  • 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 roots.

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, 09 April 2014 14:18:18 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
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

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 in value.

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 calculator).

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—including the unindexed, not-searchable ones—check out our webinar 10 Simple Strategies for Using, happening Wednesday, April 16.

court records | Family Tree University | FamilySearch | Research Tips
Wednesday, 09 April 2014 14:14:35 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, 04 April 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 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 here.

immigration records | Jewish roots | MyHeritage | NARA
Friday, 04 April 2014 11:40:23 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
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.

NYPL Map Warper

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.

NYPL Map Warper

Then I clicked Warp Image, let the Warper finished working, and clicked Preview Rectified Map:

NYPL Map Warper

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.

NYPL Map Warper

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, 04 April 2014 10:30:27 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 01 April 2014
8 Ways To Know It's Time To Start Writing Your Family History
Posted by Diane

genealogy stories wedding photo

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 family.

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 start writing.

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.

Our Write 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, 01 April 2014 10:14:32 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
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, 01 April 2014 08:18:26 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [3]