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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Social history in your family history

If you have read many of my blog posts, here and elsewhere, you may remember me talking about how I love studying the social history aspect of genealogy.  For me it really breathes life into the people I am researching.  It is a way for me to connect to them.  To feel their plight.  Know what they lived through.  Read about what they saw.  Be jealous at the prices they paid!

While I think I know how to do social history research I am not confident enough to say I know everything about it.  By listening to others lecture on the subject and reading as much as I can I am hopeful some holes in my knowledge will fill in and learn new insights into this field of study.

According to the Merriam Webster online dictionary social history is defined as “history that concentrates upon the social, economic, and cultural institutions of a people.”  This definition refers to a group of people, but it very well could be the study of one person.  Often a case study is called the social history of a person.  I know how much we genealogists love a good case study!

One thing I think we should look at more as researchers are what the childhoods of our ancestors were like.  Looking back at my own family I do not know a lot about my ancestor’s childhoods.  A few stories from my great grandparents have made it to me but as for many of them they are a big black hole until they start creating records of their own.

I have thought about that more and more making me realize that it is a shame we don’t have more reliable resources on childhood through ages.  Especially to fill in the lives of those members of our extended families who did not make it to adult hood.

As the daughter of the doctor I tend to love learning about the history of the health industry.  You know disease, mortality, injuries and so forth.  If you have ever read a pension record, or a newspaper article for that matter, there are times that we need to educate ourselves on the names of common diseases used at the times our ancestors lived.  

Of course, the medical fields roll into a common human theme of abuse of drugs and alcohol.  If you think that drug and alcohol abuse are only a modern problem, think again.  It affected our ancestors in different ways, especially when it may have been your doctor getting you addicted, but there were still implications on the home and family.  A part of social history that was shameful for many families, but can demonstrate a familial link of dependence and addiction which seems almost inherited in some people.

On a brighter note have your ever thought about how technology effected the lives of your ancestors? You know, little inventions like the portable camera.  A little over 100 years ago Kodak created a smaller camera that now allowed people to take their own pictures.  It spread like wild fire.  Now nearly everyone has a camera (especially if they have a phone).  I sat and thought about how my recent ancestor’s way of documenting their lives changed. No pictures, to a few, to dozens, and now thousands of pictures a year.  Just imagine how that changed the way they felt about each other then and the way they could now remember special events.

If you are still not sure why you should consider studying social history, here are a few resources you should read about on why social history is an important field of study for genealogists.

·        Lisa Louis Cooke Genealogy Gems “Tell your Ancestor’s Story: Use Social History for Genealogy”
·        Gena Philibert Ortega “100 Social History Websites”
·        Katherine Scott Sturdevant Bringing Your Family History to Life Through Social History

Friday, October 20, 2017

Research trips are the best

When I started out on this path I thought I had a pretty good grasp of what it took to visit a research facility.  Boy was I wrong!  True, I knew how to use most search features on the computer, plus a card catalog, but there was so much more to a trip than I realized.  I wish I knew more before I took my first major research trip.
That first big trip (away from home) was to the Allen County Library in Ft. Wayne, which was also at the same time as the FGS conference that year (2013).  I was making it a large trip, since I am from Indiana, which meant that not only did I visit a large repository by also a few smaller ones, family members, and dozens of cemeteries.  It was a great time, but it could have gone so much better.  How do I know?  Well, I am still working on processing the data from the trip since I saved things in so many different ways and places.

For my trip I was lucky enough to be able to stay with family.  Many people when they take a trip will not be so lucky.  Which means you will need to learn more on where to find good lodging, navigating a new place, and other details that may fall through the cracks.  Spreadsheets and planning to the rescue!

Travel checklist:
  • Copies (digital best) of the research you need to do
  • Extra thumb drives for copy machines
  • Extra batteries if you take a digital camera
  • All the cables (double check!) you will need for equipment
  • Spare change for lockers or vending machines
  • Maps, directions, addresses

When I travel it is usually with my family and I try to do activities outside of research with them as well.  However, one tip I thought important was if you can attend a local meeting for a genealogical or historical society.  There you might meet someone who is familiar with where, or even who, you are researching.  Those types of networking opportunities are wonderful, and I encourage you to take advantage of them.

The Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City, Utah is one of those dream research locations for genealogists.  Many people plan for years for their one trip.  Others are lucky enough to go regularly on a pilgrimage to this repository.  Once again, there are tips and tricks in there that I wish I had known about before!

I have gone to the FHL three, and I am very sad I will not be back for RootsTech 2018.  Two times I had only 1 day at the FHL, but the last time I was excited to put in multiple days there. Actually, I did homework for 3 days there.  Perfect setting I have to say!

Repository Checklist:
  • Your pre-research lists on what you want to see
  • Do you need to call ahead and request any documents to be pulled
  • Extra jacket / sweater cause repositories can get cold
  • Appropriate bags and instruments for research (check their guidelines)

Since the one time a year I get to go also corresponds with RootTech it is a crazy time in the area.  Other times of the year are less packed, but at peak times of the year you can run into so many people from our community all doing what we love…research.  So check your calendars.

If you do get to Salt Lake do not forget to go to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building (JSMB).  The JSMB holds some records that are only found on microfilm at the FHL as well as having computers for research and a cafeteria.  The one thing I can vouch for is the cafĂ© in the JSMB.  I ate there once and it was very, very good food for reasonable price.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Crowdsourcing Your Genealogy to Break Down Walls

Social media is hard to define, or even describe to most people.  It is ever changing and almost fluid in the way it has evolved over the past decade.  Essentially this concept refers to a community based, online communication forum that relies heavily on sharing of content and collaboration. 

Genealogists can use social media in several ways. For example research, networking, or education are ways that we can connect, share, and collaborate using various platforms. Social media and genealogy can go hand in hand with each other very easily.  By the end of this presentation you should be comfortable in making a choice about how you will use social media for your pursuits.

If you asked 10 people to define social media as well as explain it to you not one of them would give you the same answer.  Of course, it all depends on who you ask, and that would not necessarily be based on their age.  In my opinion there is not a common answer because we each use the platforms that best fit our needs, thoughts, and ideas. 

Some love Twitter while others detest it.  Some are Pintrest obsessed while others avoid it.  That is the great thing about this ever-evolving world of collaboration and sharing: you can make it what you want it to be.  It is like putty that you can shape, mold, and form into your way of doing things. What works for you might not work for someone else, but there is something out there for everyone.

Here is something to think about.  Where do you think you fall on the social media usage scale?  Are you a lurker, a dipper, or maybe an informer?  Perhaps you have several personalities depending on what you like to use.  Hopefully you will be willing to try something new and shift your social media persona by the end of this presentation. Thinking about your strengths and weaknesses will help you determine how you can adjust and change your usage to get more out of this resource.

There are many different platforms that are considered social media.  To give you some ideas on the different products which are covered under the social media umbrella look at the graphic by Popular Culture Social Media Infographics shown here.  Did you realize that all these services fell under the auspices of social media?  How many do you use in one day?  The first time I looked at this list I realized there were nearly 20 platforms that I use on a weekly basis.  Over half of those help me daily on my genealogy pursuits. 

Remember, social media outlets will only work for you if you participate in them.  It is simply not enough to have an account and watch the feeds go by.  To learn, grow, and find the answers you are looking for will take a time commitment on your end.  Posting your finds and talking with other genealogists is just the beginning.  Think about how you want to use social media and then seek out the sites that will make it a reality for you.

Below is a listing of some of the more popular and frequently used social media platforms.  There are examples listed of how you could use these to aid your genealogy research and pursuits.  From it you should be able to put together a basic plan on how they can work for you and which ones you will get the most use out of. 

Type of Social Media
Genealogy Use
Social Network
Collaboration, sharing, education, networking
Education, publicity, sharing
Wordpress / Blogger
Research, sharing, education, publicity
Google +
Social Network
Education, publicity, research, collaboration
Picture sharing
Collaboration, sharing, research
Research, education
Curated Networks
Professional networking
Voice / Messaging
Collaboration, sharing, networking

The key is to use what you can handle and be active with those you chose to use.  You don’t need to have a dozen accounts if you are not going to use them.  Pick and choose and make it your own.  Most of all have fun getting to know genealogists and family historians from all over the world!

Web Resources:
· “The Ultimate Glossary: 120 Social Media Marketing Terms Explained”
· “What is Social Networking?”
·        Family Search “Popular Social Networks for Genealogy”
·        Social Media and Genealogy by Carole Riley

Print Resources:
·        Staying Safe with Social Media: A Guide for Genealogy and Family History by Thomas Macentee
·        Social Media for Family Historians by Carole Riley
·        Social Networking for Genealogists by Drew Smith

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Upcoming Lectures in October

I have a few lectures at the end of the month rounding out a great Family History month for me.  If you are in Virginia, and can make, hope to see you there!

19 October "What's in my Chromosomes?" at 11 am held at the Bull Run Library in Manassas, VA.

28 October I will present four lectures at the Virginia Genealogical Society Fall Conference in Norfolk, VA 
Crash Course on the Library of Virginia’s website
A Beginners Guide to Genetic Genealogy
Deciphering atDNA Testing
The Nuts and Bolts of Writing a Family History

If you are looking to the future, make sure you click on my presentations tab to keep up with where I will be.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Creating a Research Plan for DNA Testing

Most people simply take a DNA test out of curiosity.  Some really want to the DNA to help them shed light on a family mystery or break down a brick wall.  Unfortunately, simply taking a DNA test will not help you to answer your questions.  These tests can throw open the closets on family secrets, but they also should be treated like another record source.

DNA is an excellent tool when used correctly.  I like to tell people to think of your DNA results the same way you would any other record.  It can give you some answers, but it can also leave questions.  To get the most out of your tests you need to know what questions to ask and which tests will answer those questions.

With that thought in mind you can easily incorporate DNA testing into your research plans.  What is crucial for you as the researcher is to determine which test you should use to answer your question(s).  Remember you may have to perform a variety of genealogical research as well.  This includes finding living descendants of your ancestors who could hold the genetic material you need.

There are 5 steps to successful a great research plan.  As a researcher, you need to:
1.      Ask questions
2.      Look for information
3.      Speculate about the answer
4.      Establish the facts
5.      Explore what else should be researched (like DNA)

You can turn this list into a written narrative or leave it as a simple list.  Whatever works the best for you is what is important.  I tend to do a little of both, which you will see in the example plan section below.  I can tell you that if you follow these steps you will go far in your ancestor hunting.

Ask: What do I want to discover?  Often this is called your objective or research question.  Ask yourself what specifically you want to find.  Be detailed and only ask one question at a time.  For example: Who was the father of John Jones, born in New York City, 24 May 1893?

That is a great specific question.  If you just asked “who were John Jones parents” that is too vague.  Which John Jones?  Where? When? You want to ask a question that will have only one correct answer.  It could ask about a person and their relationship to someone else, to verify a person’s identity, or for verification of an event that took place. 

Look: What do I know? After you decide what you are researching you should look at your files to determine what you already know.  Pull together all of your information into one place and start to analyze it.  You also want to take into consideration how reliable are the sources you are looking at.  Remember back to chapter 1 when we talked about types of sources, information, and evidence.  Those guidelines will help you determine how much credence you put into the documents laying before you.

Speculate: Do I have an idea of the answer? Sometimes after looking through all of the information you have gathered you might be able to make a hypothesis for the answer to your question.  You may hear genies talk about serendipity or that they were guided by their ancestors.  I like to say it was good detective work that gave them a gut feeling on what they needed to do next.

Whatever you would like to call it see if you can develop an idea about what happened.  You may end up with a handful of ideas, which is great.  Those will be the places you will want to check first in the next step. 

Establish: Where should I look? This can be one of the hardest things for a new researcher to do, determine where they should look for records.  Since you are new to the field it may seem like an uphill battle.  You will need to educate yourself on what is available for the location and time frame you are interested in.  Maybe you will need to start out by interviewing family members on the problem.  They could lead you to resources that you didn’t know existed. 

Explore: What should be done? Ok, now you should think about what you need to research.  Start to determine if there is a type of record you should look at first or maybe a database you need to consult before other research begins.  This part is where your plan comes together.  Take all this information and collate it into one document

Simply follow your research plan, tweak it was needed, and you will discover that research really is not that difficult.  For DNA testing the hardest part might be finding willing participants.  Persist, ask, and look for the people who potentially hold the answer to your questions.

Genetic Genealogy in Practice by Blaine Bettinger and Debbie Parker-Wayne

The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy by Blaine Bettinger

Family Search Blog: Using atDNA Testing in Your Genealogy Research

BCG Website: DNA and the Reasonably Exhaustive Search by Judy Russell

Monday, October 16, 2017

Getting the most from the Family Search & Stephen P Morse Websites

FamilySearch and the One-Step websites are, for many researchers, mandatory search stops no matter your level of expertise.  You are probably hoping that I will give you hints which will help crush a family brick wall by showing you how to master these types of websites.  Both have a great deal of information in many forms, but unless you have hours to spend every day researching most people never tap their true potential as an outstanding web resource.  In this handout I am going to give you a few strategies you can use on these sites for more success.  These tips are also great for other types of online genealogy research too, just in case you get stuck. 
Strategy: Start Broad, Then Refine
One of the simplest things you can do for a successful search is to use the process of elimination.  Beginning with a basic search that includes the minimum amount of information is key.  Sometimes too much information can get in the way. Start with a name, maybe a place, and a date range.  Date ranges are key since not all records have reliable dates on them.   If you have a large number of results start adding more information. One thing people forget about is using the friends, associates, and neighbors (or FAN) network in a search.  If you are looking for a family name that could be easily misspelled, mispronounced, or butchered in some other do not forget to look for as many variations on the spelling as possible.  That includes maiden names when known.  Think about all the ways someone could be found or how an office might have abbreviated a person’s name. 

Strategy: Using Advanced Menu Options
After you type in the basic initial information for the person you are researching you get a results page.  If there are a large number of hits this may seem like looking for a needle in a haystack.  Now is the time for you to narrow your results down by using any advanced search menus options available on many search screens.

Strategy: Using Boolean Searches and Wildcards
Hopefully most of you know what Boolean searches and wild cards are.  For those that need a refresher, in a nut shell, they are ways that you can make your searches broader and can cover a multitude of spellings. Investigate if the website you are searching allows these since it can help you find misplaced or hidden ancestors. Wildcards will give a large number of results however. Make sure you have an idea on how you will pare them down if you need to. 

Strategy: Record Collections
Instead of messing with the filters, because you know exactly the types of records you want to view, why not go directly to them. If the site has a listing of its collections make sure to investigate it completely.  I always use any “learn more” features to see if the information I want is there.  It really stinks to search for hours for a record that does not exist. 

Strategy: Explore the Entire Website
Many people want to hit a site and never go further than what is easy to find in a first search.  I am here to tell you that is a huge mistake.  Take the time to really explore.  Start out by looking for collections, databases, and etc. that your ancestors could be in and just go for it.  By using clues from other sources you can narrow your searches down to a few collections and weed through it all fairly easily. Take copious notes on what you find, and particularly what you don’t find.  One of the ways I track my progress through a record collection is by what I call carrot short hand.  I write each collection name or page and then with arrows I show the clicks I made to get to the next one.  This way when I go back to look at my notes later I knew where I went, what I looked at, and if I found anything.

Strategy: Publications
Did you know that there are entire digitized books out there on genealogy topics?  You can search many of these websites by generic topics (like a surname or a place) or titles if you know the book you are looking for.  Plus there are advanced search features available on many sites to filter by material types (periodical, gazetteers, or books) in addition to languages.

Strategy: Search the Catalog
Catalogs usually contain the listing of all genealogical materials available from a website.   These are really handy if you need to find a record again if you forgot to write down the identifying information the first time.  Or if you only remember part of a name for the record, but aren’t sure where you located it the first time.   Search the catalog and see what comes up.

Strategy: Exploring Wikis
For those of you who are still unsure what a wiki is, simply put it is a website that allows editing of its content and structure by its users through collaboration.   Subjects on genealogy wikis range from advice for researchers to the information you can find in various record collections.  The sites are updated frequently, so the key is to check back often to see if information you want to learn about it there. 

Strategy: Safely using the submitted genealogies
As genealogists, we live on clues and hints.  Do not be afraid to look to other people’s research for help.  Just realize that until you also confirm that information it is suspect.  That is just good research practice.  One good way to weed though the massive amounts of possible results is to look for trees that have source citations and no inconsistencies.


·        Family Search
·        Family Search Wiki
·        One-Step Website
·        Basic Search Tips and Advanced Boolean Explained
·        What is a Wildcard?
·        Genealogy Searches Online

·        Dana McCullough Unofficial Guide to How to Find Your Family History on the Largest Free Genealogy Website

·        W. Daniel Quillen Mastering Online Genealogy