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# Tuesday, 31 May 2016
The Big Picture: Using Mind Mapping to Organize Research Ideas
Posted by Diane

When the dreaded brick wall hits, genealogists often step back and collect their thoughts. A difficult problem may require a plan of attack, and you can create such a plan in a brainstorming session in which you generate as many ideas as possible. In this guest post, author and co-host of the Genealogy Guys podcast Drew Smith describes how to use one organization strategy, mind mapping, to brainstorm and arrange new research leads and tactics.

While plain paper or a whiteboard can be useful tools for recording and visually organizing these thoughts, you can also find a digital solution: computer-based mind mapping. And when the mind-mapping tool is online, you can then collaborate with other researchers and put the brick wall problem in front of as many other people as possible.

A number of free web-based mind-mapping tools are available, and my current favorite is Coggle. Set up your free Coggle account on the app’s home page by using any Google account that you might already have.

Coggle allows you to create as many different mind maps as you like; Coggle refers to these as “diagrams” or “documents.” When you start a new diagram, you begin with a central concept or question. For instance, you might start with a brick wall question (e.g., “When and where did Edmund Manley Martin die and when and where was he buried?”). This forms the center of your diagram. From there, you can add branches to the left, right, top or bottom, entering any new questions and ideas that pertain to the central concept/question (e.g., “When does he last appear in the census?”).

At each step, you can choose colors for the lines that link the parts of your diagram together, change the size of the text, and include images and URLs. You can create branches again and again, creating a complex diagram that captures everything in your head related to the question. Then you can drag items around in order to change where they appear on the screen and how they relate to each other.

When you are done, you can save the diagram as an image, print it or share it with others. And you can continue to edit it as new ideas occur to you. If you have many diagrams, you can organize them into folders.

If you like to visualize your genealogical research problems—or just like to get any kind of information out of your head and into an organized structure—you should give mind mapping a try!

Learn more about mind mapping and other organization techniques by pre-ordering your copy of Organize Your Genealogy today.

organizing your research
Tuesday, 31 May 2016 11:23:50 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
16 Things to Write Down About Yourself for Posterity
Posted by Diane

Genealogists are often so busy trying to find and record all the details about our ancestors' lives, that we forget our own history will eventually become family history.

We forget to preserve information about our own lives. Thus, in 100 or 200 years, our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews will be struggling to understand our lives and what we were really like.

Of course, it's also often personally beneficial to reflect on your own life and experiences.

In Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy, Sunny Jane Morton has worksheets and writing prompts to help you get started preserving your own memories—even if you don't think you're a writer. Here's a list of topics to consider writing about for the future generations of your family tree. Not all apply to every person, but they're adaptable to fit your unique life:
  1. Your full name and when and where you were born
  2. Your siblings' names, and when and where they were born
  3. Your parents' names, when and where they were born, what they were like, the kind of work they did, special memories about them
  4. The same for your grandparents and great-grandparents, if you knew them
  5. How your parents met
  6. Your childhood: the games and books you liked; your hobbies, sports and activities; where you went to school; favorite and least favorite subjects in school; what you wanted to be when you grew up; your chores around the house; trouble you got into
  7. Your high school years: school subjects you excelled at and struggled with, sports and activities, jobs, friends and dates, learning to drive, how you got along with your parents
  8. Your college years, job training, and/or transition into working life
  9. Experience serving in the military
  10. Adult relationships and/or how you met your spouse
  11. Where you settled as a young adult, your friends and activities, religious life, travel, work
  12. Being a parent: when and where your children were born, their names and how you chose them, what you loved and didn't love about having children
  13. Life lessons you've learned and advice you'd like to share
  14. Family stories passed down to you, that you in turn want to pass down to others
  15. Medical struggles that might also impact others in your family, if you feel comfortable sharing them
  16. Of course, your genealogy discoveries 
Another easy, fun way to get started writing about your life is with Sunny's Memoir Mad Lib (free on Just fill in the blanks as indicated, with a person, place, event or adjective.

Story of My Life covers the above topics in sections on parents, siblings, childhood, high school, career and adulthood. There's also space to note vital statistics about yourself and immediate family members as a genealogical record.

See more about this valuable book, along with a quick tip for gathering memories about people and events, in

Genealogy books | saving and sharing family history
Tuesday, 31 May 2016 10:47:44 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 24 May 2016
12 Free Websites to Search for & Honor Fallen Military Ancestors on Memorial Day
Posted by Diane

“We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance ... Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.” 

First Decoration Day Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, 1868.
Library of Congress.

These are the words of Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, who declared in 1868 that May 30 would be a day to decorate the graves of Civil War soldiers with flowers.

Daisies gathered for Decoration Day, 1899.
Library of Congress

After World War I, Decoration Day became an opportunity to honor Americans who've died serving in any war. The term "Memorial Day" was first used in 1882 and became common after the Second World War. A 1967 law made it the official name of the holiday.

Decoration Day at Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument, New York City, 1917.
Library of Congress.

To help you honor your military ancestors, we've gathered these websites where you can search for those who died serving in US wars:
  • Nationwide Gravesite Locator database from the US Department of Veterans Affairs, which catalogs burial locations of veterans and their family members in VA national cemeteries, state veterans cemeteries, other military and Department of the Interior cemeteries, and private cemeteries (after 1997) when the grave is marked with a government marker

If you're ready to learn more about your family's military heritage, you'll want our genealogy guides to two of the most important types of military records: compiled service records (CMSRs) and pension records. Download these expert guides in and start using them today.

Grave Decorated on Decoration Day, Gallipolis, Ohio, 1943.
Library of Congress.

Genealogy Web Sites | Military records
Tuesday, 24 May 2016 11:10:46 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, 23 May 2016
It Takes Two: The Research Benefits of a Two-Monitor System
Posted by Diane

Handling all your data and research can be a struggle. In this guest post, author and co-host of the Genealogy Guys podcast Drew Smith explains why it’s important to have dual screens in your workspace to best keep your research organized.

Before genealogists had the benefit of computers, they used a desktop or table to spread out their documents and notebooks. In the ideal workspace, they had plenty of room in which to make notes to themselves or fill out a handwritten pedigree chart or family group sheet. With a large desk, they could simultaneously view a printed copy of an original record. They could put two records side-by-side, comparing the information to see whether or not the records referred to the same person or to different people.

The modern genealogist is more likely to view digital documents and record their research conclusions in desktop software or in an online family tree. But if everything is displayed on a single average-sized monitor, you’ll have to switch the view back and forth between different windows, just to make comparisons between records or to record notes and conclusions.  

A larger monitor may make it possible to have two different windows viewable at the same time. You can buy 27-inch PC monitors for as little as $200, but higher-quality monitors may cost as much as $500 or more. If your budget allows you to do so, you can even find 32- to 34-inch Windows monitors for around $900 to $1,000. But for the price of a 32-inch monitor, you can easily buy two 27-inch monitors, with far more total viewing space.

If your physical workspace provides enough room for at least two 27-inch displays, I would recommend considering that configuration. This provides room to do your writing on one display (taking notes, entering data into your software, etc.) and to do your research on the other display (viewing one or more records). You’d be surprised how much time and mental energy you save by not having to switch window views in and out.

Besides the cost of a second monitor, is there a downside to having multiple monitors? Yes: If you try to do serious research work on one screen, you may have distractions on the second screen, such as your email inbox or social media sites. In this case, you may find yourself less productive than if you had only a single screen! So if you don’t need to do real work on the second screen for a while, use it instead to display an inspirational photo or the text of your research goal in big letters.

Learn more tips and strategies for organizing your genealogical workspace by pre-ordering your copy of Organize Your Genealogy today.

organizing your research | Tech Advice
Monday, 23 May 2016 14:43:24 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 17 May 2016
Little-Known Courthouse Records: My Ancestor's Mechanic's Lien
Posted by Diane

Genealogists researching old court records generally expect to find records like deeds, probate files and trial proceedings. In our Courthouse Research Made Easy Family Tree University course (running May 23-June 27), you'll learn about these and other, lesser-known, ancestor records you can find at the courthouse.

I was lucky to discover an interesting one by chance, and it told me a lot about a few days in the life of my third-great-grandfather Thomas Frost, a carpenter. Even luckier, the record was online.

The Hamilton County (Ohio) Genealogical Society has a downloadable PDF "sundries" index, kept for non-deed documents, from the county recorder's office. I casually scrolled through and spotted Thomas' name with "mechanic's lien."

My first stop was FamilySearch's collection of Hamilton County, Ohio, records. It's not yet indexed, so you can't search it. Instead, I browsed to Land and Property records, then to the book, volume and page number referenced in sundries index: Mechanic Liens Vol. 7 (1864-1869), page 50.

The document outlines the materials and labor Thomas provided to a Mr. S. Schwab on a two-story brick building at 177 West Third Street, October 26-28, 1864. The list included "Repairing front gutter and trimming same and making new cornice and turning and furnishing tin spouts to rear of house," "Time & Trouble Fixing Clossets" and "nine square and 20 ft. of Shingling at $2.00."

I had to look up what a mechanic's lien is. It serves as security for a person working on a construction project. The tradesperson receives interest in the property title, and if the person in charge of the project doesn't pay his workers, they can be paid from the sale of the property. Similar laws have existed for centuries, according to Wikipedia, but Thomas Jefferson conceived of mechanics liens in their modern form to encourage construction in Washington, DC.

Thomas was owed $391 and at the time he filed the lien Jan. 27, 1865, he'd received only $90. If I'm interpreting this correctly, it looks like he did receive payment.

You can bet I looked for an old map to find the location and see if the building still exists. It's a parking lot now.

But I know exactly where my ancestor was for three days in 1864, and what he was doing. Courthouses are filled with records like this, records you never would've realized existed. The four-week Courthouse Research Made Easy online course will show what records exist and how to find them, as well as offer strategies for in-person courthouse research. Learn more about the course and register at

court records | Family Tree University | Research Tips
Tuesday, 17 May 2016 14:39:17 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 11 May 2016
Five Resources For Finding Early Immigrants to the US
Posted by Diane

Looking for early immigrants to America, before passenger lists were required in 1820? Try these resources, which you'll learn more about in our online workshop How to Find Your Ancestry Before 1850, May 16-22:
  • Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s: This index by P. William Filby and Mary K. Meyer compiles information from a variety of records. It's in print at many libraries and searchable on, and through HeritageQuest Online (available at many libraries). 
  • Early passenger lists: A few early lists exist. For example, Philadelphia passenger lists from 1729 through 1808 (with a break during the American Revolution) are transcribed in Pennsylvania German Pioneers by Ralph B. Strassburger and William J. Hinke, and the National Archives has microfilm of some early lists for New Orleans and Philadelphia lists.
  • Land records: The colonies of Virginia and Maryland made land grands to those who sponsored immigrants.  The patent or headright would name those transported.
  • Naturalization records: In the Colonies, non-English immigrants had to swear oaths of allegiance as part of the citizenship process. The US passed its first naturalization act in 1790. These records have sparse information but may include the date, ship name and port of departure.
How to Find Your Ancestry Before 1850 also covers the 1790 through 1840 US censuses (which name only heads of households), tax records, "cluster" research, and other strategies and records for researching early Americans. See a workshop program at

immigration records | Research Tips
Wednesday, 11 May 2016 09:59:55 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 04 May 2016
Genealogy News From the NGS Conference in Florida!
Posted by Diane

The National Genealogical Society's annual family history conference is happening now through May 7 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Here's a quickupdate with news from the conference: | findmypast | Genealogy Events | Libraries and Archives | MyHeritage
Wednesday, 04 May 2016 16:01:09 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 03 May 2016
Organized Genealogy Research: Matching Up Two Theresas
Posted by Diane

My new favorite genealogy accomplishment is figuring out whether the  Theresa Seeger Kolbeck whose 1937 death announcement I found by chance in a newspaper index on the Kenton County Public Library website was the sister of my great-great-grandfather, German immigrant Heinrich Arnold ("H.A.") Seeger.

All I had on H.A.'s sister was her baptismal record from Steinfeld, Germany, with her date of birth and parents' names.

A little research into the local Theresa—actually Mary Theresa—uncovered a death certificate with her birthday as Feb. 18, 1949 (three days after H.A.'s sister's birthday) in Germany. She and her husband Herman Henrich Kolbeck immigrated May 16, 1873, and settled in Covington, Ky. The 1900 census reported they'd been married 27 years, putting their marriage in 1873. 

Following tips Drew Smith will share in our Genealogy Organization Tips and Strategies webinar on May 19, I planned out some steps:
  1. From previous research in Steinfeld, Germany, marriage records, I knew they usually name the parents. I added a to-do list item to view the records covering 1873 at my local FamilySearch Center. So many folks around here have roots in that part of Germany that the film is in the permanent collection of my FamilySearch Center. Getting out to research requires all kinds of scheduling acrobatics for me, so I knew it'd be awhile before I could visit.

  2. I looked up the Kolbecks in other databases on the Kenton County library website. and found church record index entries for the baptisms of several children. The library has the records on microfilm, so I ordered digital copies through its fee-based request service.

    A few were the Kolbecks' children, with Theresa's maiden name as variants close to (but not exactly) Seeger. One baptism had a sponsor Frances Säge. Frances was the name of H.A.'s wife. Other baptisms were the children of another Kolbeck couple, with Theresa a sponsor in one. 

  3. Also from the Kenton County library, I ordered a copies of two newspaper death announcements for Theresa. Neither named her parents or birthplace in Germany. 
Finally the stars aligned and I could get to the FamilySearch Center to view the Steinfeld church records. Within 15 minutes, I found Theresa's and Herman Henrich's April 23, 1873, marriage record. Theresa's parents had the same names as on her baptismal record, and the same names as H.A.'s parents.

Yay! I could add all those Kolbecks into my family tree.
Drew Smith recommends organizing your genealogy research around goals, and I have two new ones for this family:
  1. Figure out whether Theresa and Herman Henry were cousins. You probably noticed that Theresa's mother was born a Kolbeck.

  2. Figure out if and how that other Kolbeck couple in the Covington, Ky., baptismal records was related to Herman Henrich. That family later moved to Ford County, Kan.
Our Genealogy Organization Tips and Strategies webinar on May 19 will help you manage your research process, so you can take a focused approach to solving genealogy problems. Learn more about this online event in

German roots | Research Tips | Webinars
Tuesday, 03 May 2016 15:18:13 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, 25 April 2016
Genealogy Roadshow Debuts May 17 (PLUS: Submit a Family Mystery for Next Season!)
Posted by Diane

"Genealogy Roadshow" has released a preview of its new season, premiering Tuesday, May 17, 8 p.m. ET on PBS. Shows this season will take place in Boston, Miami, Houston and Los Angeles.

If you haven't seen this series, it has professional genealogists D. Joshua Taylor, Kenyatta Berry and Mary Tedesco use research to solve family history mysteries for ordinary people. Often, the guests have done a little genealogy themselves and run across a family legend or difficult research problem.

(PS: Josh Taylor will present our Best New England Genealogy Research Strategies webinar this Thursday, April 28. Got ancestors from Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut or Rhode Island? Find out more here about this terrific opportunity to learn from an expert.)

Here's a preview of this season of "Genealogy Roadshow":

The show's website also is beefed up with genealogy tips and clips from past episodes. Many featuring background on historical events and people in guests' trees, such as Laura Ingalls Wilder, the US Colored Troops, and pirates and outlaws.

"Genealogy Roadshow" guests are selected through an application process—here's the online form for next season.

Genealogy TV | Webinars
Monday, 25 April 2016 10:31:57 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, 11 April 2016
My No. 1 Favorite Genealogy Resource
Posted by Diane

Newspapers! It's newspapers. They're full of details you don't find anywhere else (although sometimes colored by a reporter's perspective). Because our Find Your Ancestors in Online Newspapers webinar is coming up April 21,  I'll let my third-great-grandfather Thomas Frost demonstrate  why I love this resource.

You first heard about Thomas when I blogged about his sensational divorce (a Cincinnati Daily Enquirer newspaper article provided the clue to look for divorce records). On Nov. 19, 1879, two papers detailed the charges, although with different sympathies:

The Cincinnati Daily Enquirer article is at the top and the Cincinnati Daily Star article is below it.

Thomas' life didn't improve from there.

The Daily Enquirer reported March 8, 1881, on his visit with the children in an article titled "A Frosty Day." Mary was  supposed to make herself scarce before he arrived, but instead she hid in the house. She jumped out when Thomas reprimanded one of the children and "made things rather lively ... Cold water, hot water, pokers and any amount of angry words were brought into requisition ... ."

Then things got even more crazy with this March 16, 1882, headline:

It would be thrilling only to a genealogist. (Or maybe a serial killer.) 

It appears my ancestor had taken up with a woman, Mary Bergan, who'd left her husband (or he left her, as the Cincinnati Daily Gazette claimed) and was staying in the European boarding house. The landlady said Thomas told her Bergan was his niece, and he became "desperate" when she was with another man.

On the night in question, Bergan was hanging out with James Murphy, John Collins, and another roomer named Birdie Huston. Thomas waited in the downstairs hallway for the party to leave. Then he leapt from behind the stairs and confronted Murphy. A scuffle ensued and Thomas was cut on the head.

Police detained Bergan, Murphy, Collins and Huston at another lodging house. Collins took the blame for the cutting, with a razor he'd grabbed from Murphy's pocket. 

The Cincinnati Daily Gazette carried some different details, including a gory description of the wound. It was an "ugly-looking" two-inch gash positioned "just back and a little above the left temple." An inch-long fracture was visible in Thomas' skull.

From articles about other relatives, I've learned about a kitchen fire, child's birthday party, barfight, commitment (for one who'd become "violently insane") and other events in their lives that probably wouldn't make the news today. Where court records are missing, newspapers informed about the bootlegging arrest and trial of my great-grandfather (not the one in the Frost line).

In our Find Your Ancestors in Online Newspapers webinar, you'll learn the best websites and techniques to search for articles with this kind of detail about your ancestors.

The webinar is on April 21, and all registrants receive a copy of the presentation slides and access to view the webinar again as often as you want. Find out more about this webinar and sign up at!

Newspapers | Webinars
Monday, 11 April 2016 10:51:49 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]