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# Friday, April 11, 2008
No Heirs? How To Save Your Genealogy Research From the Dumpster
Posted by Diane

Q. What can someone who has no heirs do with photos, birth certificates and other family heirlooms so they won't be thrown away? Is there any organization they could be donated to?

A. Many libraries, historical and genealogical societies, historical museums and state archives accept donations of family papers, genealogical research and heirlooms.

Consider giving your items to a repository in the area that figures most heavily into your research. The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), for example, seeks family diaries, Bibles and other documents related to New England research.

A local genealogical or historical society may be interested in your pedigree charts, records, photos or published family history. Or look for a museum or library with a collection—say, WWII ephemera or Italian immigrant photographs—that would make a fitting home for your treasures. Once you have a list of potential recipients, call each one to ask about its donation process.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Family History Library in Salt Lake City also accepts materials it considers helpful to researchers. See its online donation guide for information on what the library can use and how to prepare your donation. 


No matter which facility you decide on, make your wishes clear in your will and designate a genealogy buddy to help your executor carry out your desires. You can't expect a repository to take everything you've collected over the decades, so include instructions for that person to weed through your papers to separate what can be pitched from what should stay. Or better yet, get organized now, while you have a say in the matter.
 
A new generation of Web sites gives you another option: Sites including Eternal Star and Story of My Life let you digitize and store photos, records and heirlooms forever. You’ll need to consider whether the material will be readily available to researchers (if that’s what you want) and what happens if the site goes out of business, and you’ll still have the originals to deal with.

For more tips on donating your research, see the Society of American Archivists' guide and Katherine Scott Sturdevant's Organizing and Preserving Your Heirloom Documents (Betterway Books, out of print).


Preserving Heirlooms and Photos
Friday, April 11, 2008 2:35:33 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Strategies for Finding a Death Date and Place
Posted by Allison

Q. It seems that my great-grandmother is still living! (She was born about 1863!) I can't find where she died and is buried. I know about where and when.  I've heard through the family she was cremated and buried with her husband. I've searched the Internet at home and the county library. All I've been able to come up with is seeing her name on the 1910, 1920 and 1930 censuses. She's listed below her husband in the 1910 and 1920 censuses and as widow in 1930. I've even tried to search her by her maiden name and still come up with no matches. Any ideas?

A. If you've done all your searching online thus far, don't worry about being stuck: You still have plenty more avenues to explore.

If your great-grandmother died after 1936 and had a Social Security number, she should appear in the Social Security Death Index, or SSDI (search multiple versions of this database simultaneously from Steve Morse's One-Step site). The SSDI lists the deceased's last residence, where you can check to see if she died or was buried.

Try to request a death certificate from the vital-records office of the state where you think she died. Every US state was issuing vital records by the 1920s, so you wouldn't need to know the specific town or county to get the record. See the National Center for Health Statistics' Where to Write for Vital Records Web site to learn the address, fees and ordering information for each US state.

Check Great-grandma's hometown newspapers for obituaries and death notices in the time frame you believe she died. You can identify newspapers published during that time, and which institutions have them on microfilm, at Chronicling America.

Research the husband. You know from your census research he died between 1920 and 1930, and I’m guessing you also know where based on where they lived. Use this information to try to get his death certificate. Check newspapers for his obituaries, too. By identifying the husband’s burial location, you can find out if husband and wife are indeed buried together.


birth/death records
Wednesday, March 26, 2008 7:16:32 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [3]
# 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]