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# Tuesday, March 18, 2008
How to Find Your Ancestor's Will
Posted by Diane

Q I'm not sure if my grandparents ever had a will drawn up. They died 10 years apart. How would I go about checking to see if they ever filed a will? Whose death should I check first?

A We asked Christine Crawford-Oppenheimer, author of Long-Distance Genealogy (Betterway Books, out of print), to weigh in on this question:

Your grandparents didn’t necessarily have one will in common. While that's possible, a will is usually made for one person. In pre-feminist days, any land probably would've been in your grandfather's name, so he might've been the only one with a will—but your grandmother might've had a separate will. It's also possible neither had a will.

Your ancestor’s will would be in his estate file. An estate file might exist even if neither ancestor left a will. They're often more interesting without a will, because they could include papers listing names and relationships, filed to prove the heirs’ identities.

Estate files may contain many types of documents other than wills, including:
  • letters of administration
  • list of the deceased's heirs, including their relationship
  • list of who bought what at the estate sale
  • final account of the estate (who got how much money), which can help you deduce relationships from the differing amounts each person received
  • petitions, which may state the relationship of heirs to the deceased
Check for an estate file for each ancestor. If a female ancestor remarried, look for her under her the last surname she used.

To locate estate files, write to the probate court in the county where the ancestor resided at death. Give the name and death date of the ancestor, and ask for photocopies of the estate papers for that person.

Several books list addresses for probate courts, including:
You'll find more on researching wills in the September 2008 Family Tree Magazine, on newsstands in July.

birth/death records | court records
Tuesday, March 18, 2008 2:56:09 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Monday, February 25, 2008
Research Canadian Pacific Railway Workers
Posted by Diane

Q. My great-grandfather supposedly helped build the Canadian Pacific Railway. Is there any way to find out more about that part of his life?

A. Canada was still a sparsely populated country when the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) incorporated in 1881. Building that first cross-country rail link took thousands of workers and a massive effort.

In 1885, CPR worker Donald A. Smith altered the course of the country’s history by driving the final spike into the transcontinental railroad, which ultimately opened up the Canadian West to settlement. You can read a brief history on the CPR archives Web site.

If your ancestor worked on the railroad, you’ll be especially interested in the archives’ collection of historical images, documents, publications and artifacts, plus materials on topics such as tourism, immigration and colonization.

Although it’s a private collection, the CPR archives in Montreal provides researchers with fee-based services or on-site access on a case-by-case basis. You’ll need to submit a written request to arrange a visit.

You’ll find more online resources for researching rail workers at RootsWeb and Cyndi’s List.

Canadian Railway Records: A Guide for Genealogists by Althea Douglas and J. Creighton Douglas (Ontario Genealogical Society, $26) offers a glossary, chronology, and an introduction to online sources. See more history in Canadian Pacific Railway (MBI Railroad Color History) by Tom Murray (Voyageur Press, $36.95).
Lisa A. Alzo


international research | occupational records
Monday, February 25, 2008 8:47:02 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Land Records: What Are Metes and Bounds?
Posted by Diane

Q. In my land-records research, I’ve come across the term “metes and bounds.” What does it mean?

A. Metes and bounds is an old method of surveying territory for settlement, used in the original 13 Colonies. “The indiscriminate survey system, or metes and bounds, dates to England,” says Ohio genealogical speaker and writer Jana Sloan Broglin. “This system used objects for marking property lines, such as trees, rocks, or bends in streams and rivers.” Errors were common: Trees fell, rocks looked alike, river bends moved, compass directions were off. Also, land plots could end up with odd shapes.

The United States passed the Land Ordinance of 1785 to rectify this situation and establish a system for political organization of the mostly unmapped western lands won in the Revolutionary War. The more-reliable rectangular survey system divided land into ranges, 24x24-mile tracts, 6-square-mile townships and square-mile sections, all based on a north-south meridian and east-west baseline.

Each section could be subdivided for sale. Within each township, section 16 was set aside for school revenue.

A rectangular survey land description, or aliquot parts, for your ancestor’s plot might be “NE ¼ NW ¼” or the northeast quarter of the northwest quarter of a section. The description also would include a section number and the township’s position in relation to the range line and baseline.

Broglin’s home state was the first surveyed under the new system. “Ohio was surveyed in several major subdivisions, including the Congress lands, US Military District, Connecticut Western Reserve, Virginia Military District, French Grants, Ohio Company First and Second Purchases, Donation Tracts and Refugee Tracts,” she says. Early surveyors created 5-square-mile townships rather than the later 6-mile standard. (Get help with Ohio research in Broglin's July 2008 Family Tree Magazine Ohio State Reserch Guide.)

Why is all this important for genealogists? If your ancestor purchased land from the government in a public-land state, you know to look for General Land Office (GLO) records of the transaction.

Start by searching the Bureau of Land Management’s GLO database of land patents. Land entry case files are at the National Archives and Records Administration, which has a guide on its Web site.

If your ancestor bought land from a private party (not the federal government), or lived in a state-land state (the 13 former Colonies, Kentucky, Tennessee, Maine, Vermont, West Virginia, Texas and Hawaii), look for land records in county courthouses and at state archives.


land records
Tuesday, February 19, 2008 2:16:29 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Belgian Waffling
Posted by Diane

Q What advice can you offer on genealogy in Belgium? My husband’s family came from there, and I would like to know where I can go to find information—no one even knows when or how the family got from Belgium to the United States. All I’ve found so far is it was in the late 1800s.

A
Based on the problem you’ve described, it sounds as though you really should be focusing on researching the family in the United States rather than Belgium. In order to cross the pond, you first have to pinpoint the Belgian immigrant. 

So first, you’ll have to learn who the immigrant was, when he came to America, and the specific town he came from. To do that, you’ll need to thoroughly trace each generation of the family in America, starting with your husband.

You might try asking your husband’s relatives if they know any family stories that might provide additional clues, or if they have any family papers that could contain leads—a naturalization record or a family Bible, for example.

A good next step would be searching federal census records for each generation of your husband’s family: Beginning in 1850, censuses list each person’s place of birth. So if a family member did in fact immigrate during the late 1800s, census records should indicate that. Later censuses even tell you  parents’ birthplaces.

If your husband’s ancestor became a citizen in the late 19th or early 20th century, his naturalization documents will likely tell you the town where he last lived in Belgium. Obituaries often provide clues, too.

Your best bet is to check every source you can about each previous generation, as you never know where a lead is going to turn up. That includes records about the siblings of your husband’s ancestors: Maybe your husband’s forebear didn’t apply for citizenship, for example, but his brother did. (See our  feature on naturalization records in the May 2008 issue.)

I’d also recommend you look to Belgian genealogy organizations and networks, such as the Belgian Roots Project, for help. Since immigrants tended to settle in the same places as their countrymen and leave their homeland for the same reasons, these groups could provide historical and social context to help guide your search. You may also be able to connect with cousins through these organizations’ queries and databases. Browse our online Belgian Toolkit to find more resources and Web sites.

By following all these leads, you should be able to find clues to your husband’s Belgian ancestry—just don’t try to cross the pond prematurely.


Belgian roots | immigration | international research | naturalization
Wednesday, January 30, 2008 5:51:55 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Finding Birth Dates and Parents' Names
Posted by Diane

Q My great-great-grandfather Edwin Lemon was born in Chester County, Penn., in 1818. This is all I can find about him. How do I find his parent's names and the month and day of his birth?

A When you boil it down, finding parents’ names is what genealogy research is all about. Make sure you've taken the basic steps to talk to family, search for home sources, and research your more-recent Lemon ancestors.

You don’t say how you know Lemon’s birthplace is Chester County. Family stories and even later records identifying birthplaces sometimes turn out to be wrong. Look into Chester County history and see if boundary changes could have affected where you should look for records on Edwin. 

Assuming Chester County is the right place, you’re not likely to find a vital record from 1818, and unfortunately, no magical record is guaranteed to give you the information you need. Instead, search for records on all the members of the Lemon family and create a timeline of their locations and dates. Eventually the clues will add up to answers. Here are some records to search for:
  • Baptismal and other religious records. Lutheran, Reformed, Quaker, Moravian and Roman Catholic were common denominations in Pennsylvania. Check the Family History Library (FHL) online catalog for microfilmed records from churches in Chester County. (Run a place search on the county, then click the church records heading.)
  • Tax records. Everyone had to pay taxes, so search for Lemons in Chester County tax records (alson on FHL microfilm) when your ancestors lived there.
For more ideas, you'll want to use the Pennsylvania State Archives genealogical records guides. Here, you can see the types of county records available and what the archives has on microfilm for each county. As one of the three original counties William Penn created in 1682, Chester County is the subject of a lot of microfilm.

For more helps researching Pennsylvania ancestors, see the February 2007 Family Tree Magazine Pennsylvania State Research Guide.


birth/death records | court records | genealogy basics
Wednesday, January 23, 2008 8:44:45 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Wednesday, January 09, 2008
Saving Old Family Newsletters
Posted by Diane

Q. My aunt found several copies of our family newsletter dating back to 1959 in an old suitcase. It appears they were run off on a duplicating machine because the typed part is somewhat smeared blue ink. The paper feels like carbon paper.

Any ideas or suggestions on how to preserve these and make the pages more readable?

A. Your newsletters may have been copied on a spirit duplicator (also called a Ditto machine) or a mimeograph machine, both popular in schools and churches until modern photocopiers took over in the 1960s and 1970s.

These machines produced copies from a waxed master, resulting in less-than-sharp print quality—letters that bleed; os and as that look like solid circles.

You can enhance your newsletters’ readability by scanning them and using photo-editing software (which comes with most scanners) to increase the contrast of the scan and remove stray marks. Try placing a plain white sheet behind the newsletter when you scan it.

If you don’t have a scanner, try a photocopier that lets you adjust contrast—a copy shop can help with this. Make sure your final photocopies are on acid-free paper (see below for suppliers), which is much slower to yellow and deteriorate than regular copy paper.

As far as preserving the originals, they’re undoubtedly on paper that contains acid. Place the newsletters in an archival file folder separated by sheets of buffer paper (which has a low pH level to help neutralize the acids in your newsletters), and put the folder in an acid-free envelope or box.

For even more protection, treat your newsletters with an acid-neutralizing spray such as Archival Mist. Test a small area first to make sure the ink won’t run.

Acid-free paper, archival folders, buffer paper, acid-neutralizing spray and other supplies are available at many scrapbooking stores and through online retailers such as Archival Methods and Light Impressions.

Store the original newsletters away from sunlight and protect them from extremes in temperature and humidity—a closet in the living area of your home is best. To prevent wear and tear, use your digital or paper copies for reference.


Preserving Heirlooms and Photos
Wednesday, January 09, 2008 4:28:51 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, December 18, 2007
The Skinny on Scanners
Posted by Allison

Q I’m in the process of digitizing my family photos, and I have to wonder: Does the type of scanner or software really matter? I am not correcting any of them; they’re going in “as is” because 98 percent are in excellent shape.

A Of course, the companies manufacturing such gizmos like to play up the benefits of their products’ features—and it’s true that a $500 scanner can do things a $100 scanner can’t. But for genealogists, it’s kind of like choosing between a Ford or a Rolls Royce: Although the Rolls offers lots of bells and whistles, you'd probably opt for the cheaper Ford if all you really care about is getting from point A to point B.

We recommend family historians scan photographic prints at 300 to 600 dpi for archival purposes. (If you plan to enlarge any far beyond their original size, however, you’ll probably need to scan those at a higher resolution.) Today, flatbed scanners in the $80 to $100 range offer 1,200-dpi or higher optical resolution—more than enough for the type of scanning you’re doing.

If you have a lot of photos to scan, you might want to pay a little extra to get a model with a document feeder or other convenience features. Old photos, which often have cardboard backings, won't work with feeders, though. So you'd have to skip the feeder anyway if you're working with heritage photos.

(Note that slides and negatives require a scanner built for that purpose—rather than a regular flatbed—to get the best results. Such models have high resolutions and correspondingly high price tags.)

Likewise, you’ll probably find that the photo-editing and -organizing software that came with your scanner or computer will work fine for your needs. Once you’ve had an opportunity to get familiar with the program’s setup, you might decide you want to “step up” to another program that has additional features or an interface better-suited to your working style. Adobe’s $100 Photoshop Elements is one popular choice—but you certainly don’t need to shell out $650 for the professional Photoshop program, which is loaded with fancy features you’ll probably never need.


Preserving Heirlooms and Photos | computers
Tuesday, December 18, 2007 11:56:23 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Chart Challenges
Posted by Allison

Q I have Family Tree Maker 2008 software, and I can't figure out how to print a basic family group sheet that includes all my facts. Can you help?

A For this answer, we'll turn to Family Tree Magazine contributing editor Rick Crume, who reviewed Family Tree Maker 2008 in our March 2008 issue. Crume says "you need to tinker a lot with the settings" to get a decent family group sheet—but you can do it following these steps:
  1. Click on the link to the Publish workspace at the top of the screen.
  2. Use the mini-family tree at the top of the screen to select a parent in the family or click the file folder icon to search the Index of Individuals.
  3. Under Publication Types, select Relationship Reports and click on the Family Group Sheet.
  4. Click on the Detail tab.
  5. Click on the Items to Include button (with the green arrow).
  6. Hit the + button to add facts, click Select All and hit OK.
  7. Uncheck “Include only preferred facts” and “Include blank facts” and check OK. (Whew!)
Here’s a hint about pedigree charts: The default font size in four-generation charts is too large (10-point), so many place names get omitted. Reducing the font size for facts to 8 may help. (You could also remove “in” from the facts, but that process is even more convoluted.)


software
Wednesday, December 12, 2007 10:31:54 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, December 10, 2007
Untangling Terms of Use
Posted by Allison

Q I wanted to use a Web site such as Kodak, Shutterfly, PhotoWorks or Snapfish to order a mousepad with my ancestors’ photos on it. But all these sites’ terms of use state that I have to give up my rights to the photos! For example, PhotoWorks' terms say, "You hereby grant to PhotoWorks, Inc. non-exclusive, royalty-free license to use, publish, copy, modify, transmit, display and distribute your Content for the purpose of delivering the Service and warrant that you have a right to grant such a license. In addition, you warrant that all moral rights in any Content and uploaded materials have been waived and do hereby waive any such moral rights." I feel that if I use the service of one of these companies, I’ve already paid it for the service, therefore it does not--and should not--have any rights to my photos. Why do  these companies think they should be able to do this?

A You'll find this type of standard disclaimer when you use any photo Web site. Unfortunately, all the legal mumbo jumbo and complicated wording make most companies’ terms of use, er, challenging for the average consumer to understand. We’re not legal experts and therefore can’t offer legal opinions. But as scary as this clause may sound, it doesn’t appear that PhotoWorks is trying to take away any rights from its customers. Let’s look at it one part at a time.

1) The first key phrase is "for the purpose of delivering the service." In order to produce your calendar, put your photos on a CD, create an album, or make whatever product you've ordered, the company of course has to digitally reproduce, possibly edit and print your photo. Therefore, you'll be required to legally grant the company the right to use your photo. You're only giving the company the right to create the product you asked it to, nothing else.

2) You grant this right "non-exclusively"--meaning that you also can extend your rights to anyone or any other company you wish.

3) The statement "[you] warrant that you have a right to grant such a license" is also important: It's an acknowledgment that you actually have the copyright or permission to use the photos you upload. This statement protects the company against legal action if a customer reproduces photographs illegally. For example, say you get your kid's picture taken at Olan Mills, then you scan one of the photos and upload it to PhotoWorks so you can order a product. That's a violation of copyright law, because professional photo studios almost always copyright their work (that way, you have to buy the photos from that studio). It would be impossible for PhotoWorks or any such site to vet all the photos its users upload. By PhotoWorks' inclusion of this statement, Olan Mills (in this example) couldn't sue PhotoWorks if PhotoWorks' users were reproducing Olan Mills' copyrighted photographs without the studio’s permission.

4) "Moral rights" has nothing to do with morality, but with the copyright holder's right to attribution and to the integrity of the work (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_rights). Again, in my not-legal opinion, by "waiving moral" rights, you're waiving your right to have a "credit line" on a PhotoWorks products and allowing the company to "change" the image by affixing it to a coffee mug etc.

When you boil it down, what PhotoWorks is asking is common-sense stuff and shouldn’t raise red flags for most family historians. Of course, some services or companies may include some terms of use that you simply don’t agree with—which is why we encourage consumers not to ignore them. If you see something that concerns you, you can choose not to use that service—before it’s too late.


Preserving Heirlooms and Photos | Web tips | copyright
Monday, December 10, 2007 5:00:43 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Family Tree- and Photo-Sharing Web Sites
Posted by Diane

Q We received this question via our MySpace page: I’ve heard about Web sites that will host pictures to give my family its own sharing place of current pictures of our kids (considering we're all over the United States). Do any of these also have a genealogical chart you can fill in?

A It sounds like you could use a family-oriented social networking Web site. Many of these sites let you upload photos, build a family tree online (you may even be able to upload a GEDOCM to cut down on data entry), create profile pages for family members and even add important dates to calendars.

Usually, you can opt to keep your family’s pages private by giving everyone a password, and you can also grant certain people editing privileges.

You’re in luck! The January 2008 Family Tree Magazine (now on newsstands and at FamilyTreeMagazine.com) has an overview of genealogy social networking sites. Here are some family-photo sharing sites that also let you create a genealogy chart:

Amiglia offers basic tree-building (when our reviewer checked, you couldn’t enter places or events besides birth and death), photo- and video-sharing. There’s a free trial period; after that, the site costs $49.95 per year.

Geni is a graphically cool site where you can upload photos and add a calendar and a family tree (with dates and places of birth and death, but not baptisms and burials). Our reviewer found navigation easy, and the site is free.

Ancestry.com Member Trees is also free, but after you add a tree, you’ll see “shaky leaves” that indicate Ancestry.com’s subscription-only databases may have records on your ancestors. Member Trees lets you add photos and video clips with searchable descriptions, and create a book using Ancestry Press.

MyHeritage offers an easy way to type information into a tree, or a more-elaborate, downloadable Family Tree Builder. You also can upload photos. The free Basic plan limits storage space; you also can choose a paid plan for $2.95 to $9.95 per month.

If your family’s on Facebook, relatives can upload a program called Family Tree to their profiles and use it to create a pedigree chart. See the Genealogy Insider blog for more information.

With the capabilities of Web 2.0, these sites are updated frequently and new social networking sites are popping up all the time. If the whole family will be using the site, let other people weigh in on which you choose.

Readers: Which family social networking sites would you recommend? Any tips for families that use a site? Click Comment to post here, or add your two cents to our Web Watch Forum.


Preserving Heirlooms and Photos | Web tips
Tuesday, November 20, 2007 4:59:36 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [7]