FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

Now, Who Is That?

Some of us have discovered that we forget things from time to time or maybe all of the time. I’ve been looking through some photos that we took ‘not that long ago’ and although I recognized the faces, I don’t have a clue about the names of some of the people. Thinking that the memory loss was just a ‘recent’ affliction, I began to look through old photos hoping to find a photo of my subject when she was young. Well, it appears that my ‘software’ failure extends beyond farther back than I thought. I’ve had the old photos for a long time and know the scenes well, but the names….. Maybe they’ll float to the surface of my memory tomorrow if I look at the photos again. I hope.

How have you labeled your family photos over the years? My mother used to write on the face of the photos with a pen listing names and dates and sometimes location names. I’ve always hated seeing the photos defaced this way but am very happy that she wrote the names, etc., down. If she hadn’t, I don’t think anyone alive would know the names of the folks in the old photos even if they are of then young aunts and uncles, etc.

There are probably a number of ways to record names, dates and places shown on photos. I’ve long used a system that works for me and thus far hasn’t produced any negative effects on the photo.

I’ve created a template for Avery Labels on my computer and print the photo information to the labels using a laser printer. I then put the printed labels the back of the photos. If any professional or similarly trained folks read this note, they’ll probably be alarmed to read my method. I welcome their constructive comments if that is true.

The folks on RootsWeb / GenTrek have written a good article on the subject that you’ll want to read. Please also note the three links at the bottom of the page. The related pages will be very useful in making your own photo labeling decision.

In addition to my labels, I also scan the photos. The digital images are saved on all of the computers in our home and I also burn them to archival DVD’s. A copy of these DVD’s is kept at home and another is given to our children in rotation.

An additional benefit of the digital photos is that you can embed the names, locations, etc. in the image data itself.

As an example, if you have the free Irfanview software on your computer, the data can be entered in in the Comments section of the photo information. In this case, just go to Image > Information > Comment. You can also add the info in the IPTC section. While there, list ownership, copyrights, etc., for the photos and images.

Other imaging software has similar tools so you can view or record this data. You’ll just have to take a few minutes and find the ‘Information’ selection in your application.

Be aware that not all applications can or will show the data you enter in these sections however. To find out, try looking at the images that have your comments, IPTC info, etc., using the various imaging applications that you have on your computer. Can you see the data you entered? If not, write it in another section of the photo information tags.

You may want to also try the free Faststone Image Viewer. See if you can read the data in your image file by pointing your mouse to the right side of the screen when it is being displayed.

Regardless of your digital information recording method, you’ll still need to decide on a plan that lets you physically see the titles, names, dates, etc., about your photos. The physical information has a much better chance of surviving the changes in software, etc., that naturally occur over time.

If you have a good system that works for you, please let me know so it can be shared with other readers of this blog.

Here’s a great tune that explores the opportunities that my over 40 memory enjoys every day. I think you may find that the song was written about you too!

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30 September 2007 Posted by | Research Tips | | 1 Comment

The Demise of a Great Photo

We all know that we should keep our photos in acid-free storage pages, standing upright in cool dark places, but how many of us do it? I’m sorry to say that not all of the photos in our home are stored this way. I didn’t expect to be bitten by the ravages of time like I was though.

My parents had a very good photo taken of themselves a few years before my father passed away. The 7×9″ photo hangs on the wall in the long hall in our home that is adorned with photos of our family and ancestors. I suppose there is paint on the walls of the hall, but you’d need to scoot the photo frames aside to find it. I look at the photos every day as I meander down the hall to the ‘black hole’. My wife and daughters have so christened my office with that name because my sons and son-in-laws tend to never surface again after they walk down the hall to visit me.

A while ago I stopped and closely looked at the photo of my parents only to gasp when I noted that the colors were becoming severely faded. The photo hangs in a location out of the sun, in fact, you’d almost say that almost all of the light in the hall has been sucked into the ‘black hole’ unless you turn on the overhead lights.

So why were the colors fading so fast?

There are several reasons; aging photo paper, chemicals on the surface of the photo breaking down over time and so on… It was time to make a high resolution scan of the photo and burn the file to archival quality DVD’s and CD’s.

Down came the photo. I carefully opened the back to expose the 1968 vintage interior to 2007 air and light. I didn’t anticipate the problem that I immediately encountered. The photo was stuck to the inside surface of the glass in the frame! Not only stuck, but fractured, slimed and possibly melded to the glass below the level of the surface tension of its molecules! What to do…..

Well, you ladies know what this guy did in this situation. I pealed the photo off the glass (carefully mind you) and of course left a lot of the photo on the glass. There probably is some photo restorer out there who could have saved the photo in its entirety or at least saved more than I did, but who could wait for that? Apparently, not me.

Not all was lost. I’d scanned a 3×5″ version of the photo 15 years ago and although the resolution was much smaller than the setting I use now, I still have a fairly good copy of the photo for my files. It doesn’t make me feel much better but it helps.

So, do as I say, not as I’ve done. Digitize your photos and burn the files to many DVD’s or CD’s. Give copies of them to family members who live some distance away from you for safe storage. Store their backed up files and photos in return. Make hard copy clones of the photos that you really want to display. Hang the copy on the walls or propped up on your tables or on dad’s desk at work. Keep your good / original copy in an archival quality sleeve inside an archival storage box in a cool dark place. Then you’ll be able to remind me and others to do it right if we really want to keep our photos in good condition for a long, long time.

I’ve always enjoyed the vocals of Gail Davies. Here she is singing one of my favorite songs: “Grandma’s Song”

27 September 2007 Posted by | Research Tips | 1 Comment

Tombstones and Wiki’s

Tombstone InscriptionsWe often talk about viewing and posting headstone photos in our family history research. However, most cemetery records do not involve websites with just photos of headstones. They are lists of tombstone inscriptions gathered by volunteers around the world and posted on the web. If you haven’t searched for these records before, try it today. Simply use your favorite search engine and enter the simple search parameters: “tombstone inscriptions” and include the location you are searching. You may use a city, county name, state, province, parish, etc., in your search string.

As an example, a Google search for “tombstone inscriptions” + “new hampshire” resulted in 955 hits which list thousands of tombstone inscriptions in New Hampshire. If you don’t find listings for ‘the’ cemetery you hoped to find in a search that included a city name, broaden the search by to a county or even the full state. The same logic is true if you have used the name of a cemetery in your search and aren’t successful. Back out a step and loosen the search parameters to the city, county or state level and try again.

Don’t rely on just one search engine in your quest. Use several of them and review their varied results.

What’s New In Family History Indexing?

Hopefully you are one of the index volunteers or soon will be. The current list of records that are now being indexed shows that the indexing is increasing in scope. They include state and federal census records, marriage and death records and Mexican, Belgian and U.S. records. The increasing international diversity is evident in the mix. Haven’t signed up to be an indexer yet? Do it now by going to the registration site. Remember, helping with the indexing is one form of ‘Paying It Forward‘.

How Will I Find Help Using The “New FamilySearch”?

The assistants at all branch family history libraries have or are receiving training in the tools associated with the New FamilySearch. They, combined with family history consultants in every LDS ward, will be able to help you gain the skills to maximize your research skills with the new tools. New FamilySearch is already rolling out in various locations in the world and will continued in measured steps worldwide. The last location to be activated will be the Wasatch Front area of Utah in mid-summer 2008.

Additionally, a new Wiki is being added to FamilySearch to help all of us. The new FamilySearch Wiki will function much the same as
Wikipedia. Users and experts will populate the pages with postings covering the knowledge and skills they’ve obtained in their own ancestral quest. You can be one of the contributing authors to this online knowledgebase, so start jotting down your entries now.Take a little time and page through the initial postings and then jump to Wikipedia to get the flavor of a mature Wiki. I think we’ll see FamilySearch Wiki turn into one of the greatest family history research tools on the web.

24 September 2007 Posted by | Research Tips | Leave a comment

Finding Grandma and Grandpa

Some family researchers find that they descend from ancestors that are famous for one reason or another. The ‘fame’ of their ancestors aids researchers who are trying to find information about them, because their names and records are recorded both in numerous histories and in association with the cause of their ‘fame’.Let’s walk through the process of finding some well-known individuals who are famous because of their bad luck.

The Willie and Martin Handcart Companies were comprised of

members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who were migrating to Utah in the late summer – fall of 1856. Their ill-fated trek is well documented in numerous historical publications and on websites like this one and this one, as well as on the LDS Church Archives site which includes the members of the Martin Company and the Willie Company. Disaster struck the group when an early winter set in as they were still far from their destination.How can we discover if our ancestors were among this group or another well documented group of immigrants? Let’s use the members of these companies as our examples for this discussion. The discussion will necessarily be brief given the fact that this is a blog and not a study guide. Follow the links in this posting to find indepth guidance and research aids to find your own ancestors.

Start with the most basic family history research step:

Identify the ancestors you know starting with yourself, then your parents, grandparents, etc. Use the steps listed on FamilySearch to aid in your quest. Download a copy of the pedigree and family group charts on the site and print copies of them. Fill in the information you already know.

If you have a computer you’ll probably want to use it to hold and organize your data. If you don’t have family history software on your computer, you may want to download PAF or Legacy Family Tree. Both of these software packages are very good and offer a free version. But remember, you don’t have to have genealogy software or a computer. Believe it or not, family history researchers didn’t have computers until ‘fairly’ recently. However, I recommend using them if at all possible.

Fill out the pedigree chart with the names of your ancestors as far back as you know them. If you don’t know very many generations, call your parents, siblings and extended family and ask if they have information about your ancestors that they will share with you.

Go to FamilySearch and search for the individuals who are in the last generation on the right side of your pedigree charts.

Hopefully, other individuals have submitted information about your lineage. You’ll want to confirm that their information is correct by visiting a library that holds well-sourced records about your family. The library you visit may be located in your city, at a university such as at BYU, at a branch Family History Library or at the main Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

We are using members of the Willie and Martin handcart companies in our discussion. If you are searching to find a tie to any of them, be sure to review their surnames and see if you recognize any of them when compared to the surnames on your pedigree chart. If there are matches, search for the name of that person(s) in the handcart company on FamilySearch and pay special attention to any listings that appear about them in the Ancestral File section in the results list of your query. Click on their descendants and look through their names and see if you can find any that correspond with your known lineage. (The Ancestral File section won’t appear until you have made your search.)

If you find connections between yourself and a member of the handcart companies…. great! Copy the information and use the libraries near you to find other records such as birth, marriage, death, census and probate records to confirm the information.

If you don’t find information that ties you to a member of the company, don’t immediately give up your search. You’ve only just started an enjoyable quest. Use the tools found in the pages in the above links and those found on the Internet like Rootsweb and on family history related subscription sites to continue your search.

You can also use a search engine like Google or one of the many other engines to search for your information about your ancestors. Remember to put quotes around their names to get more specific hits… like “John Jones”. If you want to add a date or place to the search, it would look like this: “John Jones” + 1846 or “John Jones” + “Cleveland, Ohio”, etc.

Remember to read and include the wonderful Research Guidance publications on FamilySearch as tools in your quiver.

If you didn’t find a link to the members of the handcart company, that is ok. Not many folks in the world descend from them, but we all descend from wonderful individuals. We just need to find them. Each generation of our ancestors is a full set of ‘wonderful’ people, regardless of their fame or entries in historical publications.

If you are of the LDS faith, you’ll want to check any ordinance work for the people in your databases and family group sheets at a branch library or ask your ward family history consultant for assistance.

Remember to document all of the information you find. Without documentation, the data you collect makes a nice story, but that is all that it is — a story. I recommend that you look at the excellent sourcing examples listed on the Legacy Family Tree site. The examples are applicable to both hard copy documents and genealogy software. Review these source formatting examples and implement something similar in your own databases or family group sheets. Whatever method you use, use it consistently so other researchers can follow the method you’ve used to record your sources.
As a quick review… 1

. Look through your home and put all family history related documents, photos, etc. together in one box or two.

2. Ask your family for a copy of any ancestral information they have collected and offer to share your findings with them.

3. Use FamilySearch and other online ancestral data websites to help you research from home or another location with an Internet connected computer.

4. Visit a local library or branch family history library and search their resources for information about your family. Remember to ask the assistants at the branch family history library or those in your local community or church for research assistance and suggestions.LASTLY, believe you are going to find information on your ancestors.

By acting on that belief, miracles often happen in our ancestral quest. Make it happen in your own quest. Family history research doesn’t require advanced education, it just requires action by the researcher and the use of the many tools and guidance publications available to all of us on the Internet and at the branch family history libraries located around the world.

14 September 2007 Posted by | FamilySearch | Leave a comment

A Little Color

I’ve been working on family histories for the past few months. As I write the stories, I wish that I had more background ‘color’ to put in the stories so that they have more meaning to my descendants and other family members.What kind of ‘color’ should we add to family histories or even our own life history? It seems that in our current generations, we need to add more historical, social and visual landmarks than ever. The modern world changes its ‘skin’ with ever increasing frequency.

We paid over $600 for a VHS video player not that many years ago. The blank tapes were $20 each and we were delighted to have such an innovation in our home. We then moved from our LP records to the miracle of CD’s after spending a fortune on 8-track tapes somewhere in that brief interlude. Now CD’s are all but obsolete. Music comes in digital files that we pack around in a tiny device that may be as small as a 50 cent piece.

A 50 cent piece? How many of you remember them? I can almost guarantee that my grandchildren have not seen one or have even heard of one.

I’m writing on this on a laptop computer, not physically connected to a power source or hardwired Internet connection, but nonetheless connected to the WORLD. Not that many years ago, I built the first kit computer ever offered – the IMSI 8080 if I remember the correct model. I flipped toggle switches to program it! Our children have no reference points to imagine such a contraption, yet I was one of a very small group in the world to have my own ‘computer’ … seemingly not that long ago … (once again…. if I remember correctly).

We need to put a lot of reference points in our personal histories with pictures, maybe audio and video recordings and similar multimedia documents. We always need to include some explanation of what the photos and other inserts represent along with a “when and where “statement. A photo of my IMSI 8080 wouldn’t mean ‘computer’ to my grandchildren. They would probably puzzle over its metal case with its faceplate full of little switches wondering why grandpa included a photo of ‘a box’ in his history without the description associated with it.

Our latest batch of grandchildren are only nine years younger than their older cousins, but the truth is, they are a full generation or more younger in relation to the technology that they will use as they go to school and become teenagers. Will the cousins share very many common technological reference points when they get together and the older ones talk about: “When I was a sophomore in High School, we had or used …..” and “Remember those quaint old times?” They may get blank stares from their younger cousins.

Reference points. Include lots of reference points in your histories. My mother told me that she remembered visiting her grandparents by traveling in a sheep wagon with a little wood stove in it. Every visit was an overnight trip even though they only lived 6 or 7 miles apart. She was born long before automobiles were introduced, and her life spanned on through becoming a jet-setter herself, watching people go into space, walk on the moon and asking me to teach her how to use a computer for her genealogical data storage. How I wish I’d listened more intently and recorded more of her ‘reference point’ stories when she told them.

My grandfather hauled ore in a wagon with a team of horses for a living. Try explaining what that was really like to your grandchildren without a ‘reference point’ photo to go with the story.

How many reference points should I include in my mothers story so my grandchildren will have any comprehension of the radical technological and social changes that occurred in her lifetime? Without photos, sounds, movies, etc., will they have any idea what I’m describing in my text? Will they have any idea what I’m describing in my own life history? Probably not.

It is easier writing about my 2nd great-grandparents than about my parents or myself. Their environment changed but at a much slower rate than it did in the lives of their grandchildren and certainly than it does in the lives of their great-grandchildren. My 2nd great-grandparents need fewer overall reference points in their stories. They need less background ‘color’ about the change of technology, but maybe more reference points about history.

Many of my ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War. I often wonder how that impacted their lives and the lives of their families. Other ancestors were on the Mayflower. Did their move to Cape Cod change their ‘world view’ of their environment as much as the Revolutionary War did in the lives of their descendants? I don’t know. I need to study their lives even more than I already have before I can offer an opinion….. But I do know this; if grandpa William Bradford hadn’t written so much about the events in the Plimouth Colony, I would immediately say that the Revolutionary War produced the larger immediate impact in the lives of my ancestors than did the landing of the Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor.

However, grandpa Bradford offered many reference points in his writings to help me understand his environment, while my Revolutionary War Veteran ancestors left few, if any, written comments about their lives. So now, I have to read what historians have written and try to interpolate that information into an overlay of my ancestors lives. Who knows if my interpretation is correct. How much of the color of their lives have I lost from my remote vantage point? Probably a lot, but since they didn’t write about their lives and photos of them don’t exist, it is the best I can do. I need more Reference Points!

As an example, here’s a great story that adds a lot of ‘color’ to memories about a grandmother.

Include lots of reference points in your own stories so younger family members and future generations have some method to aid them in understanding what your environment and life were like. Without the references, you’ll become just another name, date and place in their genealogical databases.

Here’s a reference point for my own children. I grew up singing these songs, because my parents sang these songs to each other and to me as a young man. Enjoy listening to Michael Buble croon a few tunes while you read this missive.

10 September 2007 Posted by | Research Tips | 1 Comment

Hello Cousin?

There you are, walking down the street and you meet someone you’ve known for years. For some reason you start talking about family history only to find that you have a common ancestor. A smile erupts on two faces, handshakes ensue and there are pats on shoulders. Your old friend, acquaintance, schoolmate, T-ball parent or old girl / boy friend is your cousin! Maybe not a ‘close’ cousin but a cousin none the less. Who knew?

The question today is why didn’t you know? There are so many resources on the Internet now that you should know your extended family. All it takes is a little research on your part to establish your own lineage for a few generations and then search the popular sites such as FamilySearch to fill in the descendant boxes from your 2nd, 3rd or 4th great grandparents. It isn’t hard and very few folks who’ve had ancestors in the U.S. for 100 – 150 years will fail to find the names of deceased cousins that they have known at some point in their lives. And of course, those deceased cousins had children who you can contact. Hey, doesn’t that make the children cousins too?The populace of the country seems to be constantly moving around but the average move is no more than 50 miles in the U.S. according to a report on NPR radio. We have natural reoccurring reasons to ‘run’ into folks from ‘back home’ with some regularity.

Ok, so what if we do have a lot of cousins around us? We don’t talk to them all that often or at all unless they are involved in soccer, little league, PTA, or are the nurse who helps with ‘all’ of the deliveries of our babies. What’s the big deal?

The big deal is that some of them are interested in family history research. This provides several opportunities for both of you. Each of you know the events and family members in your respective branches of the family. Each of you have have research information on your common ancestor(s) that the other doesn’t have and now a research ‘buddy’ has been identified to help in The Quest. Two researchers are better than one, four are better than two, etc., so keep looking for your cousins. Starting today, ask your contacts about their ancestors and see if you can end the conversation by saying, ‘See ya Cuz. I’ll send my research to you this week. I’m looking forward to seeing your data and photos.”

How do you find them? Use the Internet to radically increase the odds of finding each other. Create a free genealogy website from Tribal Pages or a great one like Darrin Lythgoe’s The Next Generation (TNG) that costs a little money but that you own outright. Remember to only post information about deceased family members on it. Join or create a surname research group on FamilySearch, Rootsweb, Genforum and other websites. Post queries about your ‘brick wall’ ancestors on these sites. Tell the group the information you’ve found about your brick wall ancestor and ask for any information that others have found about them. Get your name and e-mail address out on the web tied to your ancestral family. Be sure to use an e-mail address that won’t disappear if you change Internet service providers. I suggest you create a GMail or Yahoo account just for family history research. Of course that means you’ll have to log in frequently and see if others have sent answers and queries, but the account will still exist regardless of how many times you change Internet services providers and folks finding your postings will still be able to contact you.

I hear from ‘cousins’ from all over the world on a daily basis via e-mail and a few snail mails. I love these queries, the “Hello cousin” and “Hey, I have this information about this person / family”… ‘What do you have?”

My ‘cousins’ and I have created numerous family research teams that are seeking the same ancestry and we communicate frequently. (Yes, using the Internet, usually using Skype or one of the Messenger programs). Every member of the group has resources available that are unique to them. I never cease to be surprised at the information that is discovered by these cousins teams. Believe that two researchers are better than one and that four, eight, sixteen significantly more effective than just adding up the numbers. Do you think that is a false statement? Start a cousins research team and prove me wrong! I don’t expect to hear of any failures in these groups, but I’m anxious to hear of your successes.

Remember to Pay It Forward this week when you have a minute of ‘free’ time. Make the choice to take a photo of an old ancestral home, a headstone or scan the photo you have of great grandma Mary and post it on the web so others can find it. The dividends from your acts of kindness will arrive when you most need them or least expect them.

2 September 2007 Posted by | FamilySearch | Leave a comment