FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

Lost – Now Found

This year I decided to research the lineage of our sons-in-law for their birthday presents. The effort has been a big hit with them and their extended families.

During their holiday family gatherings, they shared their lineal information and in some cases the wall charts they’d had printed at BYU with their families. Everyone was delighted to see the information. In fact, exploration of the data took over the conversation.

As they poured over the data, different family members found that I had missed some of their lineage. In one case, the chief of a large Indian Nation was missed along with four generations of his descendants. In another case, another Native American branch was missing.

I didn’t find this information because it wasn’t listed in the resource documents and websites that I use for research. The lineages probably would have remained blank except for the knowledge of different members of each of these families. In one case, a brother said, “Part of this line is missing! Mom, do you remember that old book you have in storage? It lists our Indian ancestry!” They found the book, dusted it off and indeed, the missing lineage was listed on the pages.

The assembled work and charts had fulfilled my expectations. Entire families became interested in their lineage. They quickly organized themselves to continue their ancestral quest. Missing data, known only to one member of the group was ‘found’ again, even though it had long been in the possession of the family.

Such is the power of organized family research, be it an organization of siblings and parents or an organization of extended cousins. Collective research results always exceed the efforts of any single individual. Collectively viewing the information for accuracy, missing data and ‘mining’ of the group memory almost always results in brick walls being pulled down and light shining on family members long since lost to history.

If you haven’t formed a family organization yet, now is the time to make it your New Years resolution.

An organization will help bring concentrated focus to missing individual and family records. Like concentrated rays from the sun through a magnifying glass, the concentrated efforts of members in the organization will be equally effective in burning through the thrash and clutter that hide the facts. It will expose the gems of truth that have ‘always been there awaiting discovery’ — Lost – Now Found.

29 December 2007 Posted by | Research Tips | 1 Comment

From Blocks to Electrons

It is Christmas time again. This week, I thought about the types of toys I received as a child and then compared them to the high tech toys our grandchildren will receive this Christmas. The wee tots blocks and dolls are basically the same design, although most are made in China now, however, the ‘big’ kids toys are radically different.

As a youngster, I thought a toy train, chemistry set or erector set were the ultimate gifts. They are a huge technological step away from the video games, computers, robots, interactive dolls and electronics books of today.

I can’t say that I’ve not embraced the technological jump though. Embraced it? I revel in it when it is applied to family history research and associated tools. We are lucky to be alive when these tools are available.

My siblings were youngsters during the great depression. I have copies of photos showingthem standing on the front porch of a tiny log cabin in Fort Canyon above Alpine, Utah where my parents moved after my father lost his job in Park City when the mines closed. They are holding handmade cutout cars and trucks and a homemade doll that Santa left for them under the Christmas tree.

The old cabin was so full of cracks and gaps that it didn’t make much shade when my folks arrived on the scene. Filling them in with creek mud and straw was first on the agenda , then came patching the many holes in the shingles.

The interior walls were covered with newspapers to help provide a little isolation against the cold. My mother said she covered the walls of the bedroom with newspaper comics so the kids would have something ‘cheery’ to see.

My father lead a posse tracking the deer poacher who frequented the mountains above the cabin. He carefully lead the posse all over the mountain following faint tracks for hours while my mother canned the meat from the deer so their family would have something to eat that winter. He was a good tracker but never could lead the posse to a capture of the ‘villain’ for some reason.

When you get your new family history software, computers and recorders this Christmas, make sure you take the time to write and record the stories of your families. Without you capturing them both digitally and on hard copy, they will disappear and be lost from the heritage treasure of your descendants. Include the photos of Christmases and memories past. If you don’t record these stories, your children and grandchildren won’t have any reference points into the Joy of Christmas that their ancestors enjoyed.

23 December 2007 Posted by | Research Tips | , , | 1 Comment

Tombstone Symbols

I looked through photos of ancestors headstones today and again wondered about the meaning of many of the symbols on them.

Some of the themes were obviously favorites of the stone cutters, but many of the symbols were picked by loved ones. They had meaning to the surviving spouse and children.

What were the meanings? I knew that I’d seen them somewhere over the years and thought I’d written them down. After a several hour search, I found the file on a backup CD in one of my storage cases. I don’t know who created the list originally, but thought it would be of interest to you.

The next time you visit the cemetery, see if you can interpret the stories written on the stones.



Ant-Christian industry
Bats (rare)-the underworld
Bee-resurrection. risen Christ; chastity
Birds, flying-flight of the soul back to God
Butterfly-resurrection; Christian metamorphosis
Chrysalis-Christian metamorphosis; resurrection
Cock-vigilance; St. Peter
Descending dove-holy ghost
Dove-peace; innocence; purity (7 doves-holy spirit); messenger of God carrying soul to heaven
Eagle-fierceness; ascension: the heavenly conveyor, national emblem of the United States: the military professional, Civil War casualties
Eagle, winged-St. John, the Evangelist
Fish-Christ; plentifulness
Fox-cruelty; cunning
Hart-the faithful thirsting for God
Lamb-Christ; Redeemer; meekness: sacrifice; child; innocence; most common 19th century child’s marker
Lamb with banner-resurrection
Lion-strength; courage; royalty; power; guardian; fallen hero
Lion, winged-St. Mark the Evangelist
Ox, winged-St. Luke the Evangelist
Peacock-immortality; eternity; resurrection; incorruptibility of the flesh
Pelican-feeds young with own blood; redemption through Christ
Phoenix-immortality; baptism
Rooster-the awakening from the fall from grace; repentance
Sheep & goats-Christians and non-believers
Serpent-symbol of death
Snake-sin; Satan; fall of man
Snake, hooped-eternity
Snake with tail in mouth-eternity; unity
Sphinx-lion represents strength and protection; used to guard entrances
Squirrel-Christian forethought; spiritual striving
Stag-same as hart


Angel-messenger between God & man; guide
Angel, flying-rebirth; guardian angel
Angel, trumpeting-call to the resurrection
Angel, weeping-grief
Breasts-the Divine, nourishing fluid of the soul (17th century); the church; the ministry; the nourishment of the soul
Child, sleeping-Victorian death motif
Death’s head, winged-mortality
Effigies-the soul
Effigies, crowned-personal reward of righteousness
Effigies, winged-the flight of the soul
Father Time-mortality, the grim reaper
Four Evangelists-Matthew, winged man; Mark, winged lion; Luke, winged ox; John, winged eagle
Hand of God, pointing downward-mortality, sudden death
Hand of God, pointing upward-the reward of the righteous; confirmation of life after death
Hands-devotion, prayer
Handshakes-farewell to earthly existence
Hands clasped-in death as in life, the devotion of these two is not destroyed
Imps-figures, some winged, some not, doing funeral related tasks; mortality
Man, winged-St. Matthew the Evangelist
Trumpeters-heralds of the resurrection
Woman, weeping-mourning; recalls myth of Niobe, whom the gods turned to stone as she wept for her slain children


Fugit hora-“hours are fleeting”, “time flies”
IHS-monogram or symbol representing the Greek contraction of “Jesus”: sometimes regarded as an abbreviation of the Latin phrase meaning “Jesus, Savior of Men”
INRI-often seen on a banner of Latin cross: “Jesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum”. Latin for Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews (John 12:19-22)
Memento mori-“remember death”
Tempus erat-“time is gone”; “time has run out”
XP-Chi Rho-first two Greek letters of the word “Christ”


Alpha & Omega-first and last letters of the Greek alphabet symbolizing the beginning & end of all things, see Revelation 22:13
Anchor-hope, life eternal; may signify seafaring profession
Arch-triumph, victory in death
Ark-church; salvation
Ark of Noah (rare)-refuge, salvation
Armor-protection from evil
Arrow-martyrdom, mortality
Arrow, quiver of-warlike
Banner-victory; triumph
Bells-call to worship
Bibles-resurrection through the scripture; the clergy
Book-Bible; wisdom
Books, stacked-knowledge
Branch, severed-mortality
Bugles-resurrection; the military profession
Candle being snuffed-time, mortality
Candle flame-life
Candlestick-Christ; devotion
Celtic cross-circle on it symbolizes eternity
Circle-eternity; or earth
Clock, (rare)-passage of time, mortality
Clouds-the divine abode
Coats of arms and crests-lineage, status
Column, broken-sorrow; broken life
Columns, doors-heavenly entrance
Crescent moon-Virgin
Cross with rays of rising sun-glory
Cross with winding sheet-descent from cross
Crown-reward of faithful, victory, triumph, glory; righteousness; resurrection
Crown on cross-sovereignty of Christ
Darts-mortality, dart of death
Drapery over anything-sorrow; mourning
Field artillery (rare)-the military profession
Finger-pointing to heaven
Fleur-de-lis-Virgin; Trinity
Portals-passageways to the eternal journey
Portraits-stylized likenesses of the deceased
Pyramid-symbolic of death
Rock-steadfastness of Christ; stability
Rosary-devotion to Mary
Scales-weighing of souls; justice
Scroll-the law; Scriptures
Scythe-time, the divine harvest
Shell-pilgrimage: baptism of Christ
Shell, scallop-pilgrim; pilgrim’s journey; resurrection
Ship-the Church
Ships’ profiles-the seafaring profession
Shrine-wisdom; knowledge
Skeletons-mortality, Death
Skull-death; sin
Skull, winged-flight of the soul from mortal man
Skulls and crossbones-mortality
Star-birth-life; Christ
Star, five pointed-Star of Bethlehem; star of Jacob; divine guidance and protection
Star, six pointed-the Father, Creation, heavenly wisdom
Sun-God or Son
Sun, setting-death
Sun, rising-resurrection; renewed life
Suns, moons and stars-the reward of the resurrection
Sword-martyrdom; courage; warfare
Swords, crossed-high ranking military person
Three points, three leaves, three of any thing-Trinity
Torch-zeal; enlightenment
Torch, inverted-extinction of life; death; mourning
Torch, upright-immortality, liberty, upright life, the scholastic world, the betrayal of Christ
Trumpet-day of judgment; resurrection
Urn-soul; mortality
Urn, draped-death, sorrow
Winged wheel-holy spirit
Yoke-burden-bearing; service; patience


Almond-favor from God; Virgin birth
Apple-sin; Eve
Bouquets-condolences, grief
Buds-renewal of life
Cedar-strong faith; length of days; success
Cypress-sorrow; death; eternal life, Roman symbol for mourning
Easter lily-modern flower symbolic of resurrection
Flower-brevity of earthly existence, sorrow; certain flowers may symbolize emotions, particular aspirations, attitudes, both religious and secular
Flower, broken-premature death
Fruit-eternal plenty
Fruit and vine-Jesus Christ; the Christian church
Gourds-the coming to be and passing away of all earthly matters
Ivy-abiding memory, friendship, fidelity
Laurel-victory, triumph, glory
Lily, lilies-resurrection, purity
Lotus-Egyptian water lily and ornament
Oak-supernatural power and strength; eternity
Olive-peace; healing faith
Palm-spiritual victory over death; martyrdom; reward of the righteous; peace; a plant whose leaves resemble a hand
Pomegranate-immortality; resurrection; unity; nourishment of the soul
Poppy-symbolic of sleep, therefore, death
Roses-condolence, sorrow; the brevity of earthly existence; of English descent–the Tudor rose
Sheaves of wheat-time, the divine harvest
Strawberry-righteousness; humility
Thistle-of Scottish descent; the inevitability of death, remembrance
Tree-faith; life; the Tree of Life
Tree, felled-mortality
Tree trunk, broken-premature death
Vine-Christian church; Christ; wine, the symbolic blood of Jesus; the sacraments
Wheat sheaves-the divine harvest
Willow, weeping-grief; death (carried at Masonic funerals); earthly sorrow, the symbolic tree of human sadness, Nature’s lament
Wreath-victory in death, indestructible crown worn by triumphant
Christian; eternity
Wreath worn by skull-victory of death over life

15 December 2007 Posted by | Research Tips | 9 Comments

Free Unlimited Online Image Storage

The power supply in my main computer workstation failed a week ago and in its dying gasp, sent a power spike through the system that fried the motherboard too. We all know that the hard drive in our machines will die at some point, but power supplies are typically more robust and you don’t worry about them exiting life by stomping on the rest of the hardware in your computer.

Wait… What was that? We know our hard drives are going to die? Yes, that is the truth and it seems to be an unwritten fact of nature. It’s an immutable law like death and taxes if you will. The few drives that don’t die are aberrations that grow so long in the tooth both in size and speed, that they might as well die young with the rest of the breed.

All of us family history researchers regularly backup our data, photos, audio, video, e-mail, etc., right?We are never caught in a situation that results in the loss of our precious records. Fortunately, I take my own advice and do back up my files daily, so the death of my computer didn’t result in the death of my data and image files.

While in the process of restoring my files from my backup drives and off-site storage, I realized that I was missing a great free off-site resource.Footnote will let anyone upload their various document images and photos for no cost AND with no storage limits. The maximum size any single image can be is 10 megabytes (big) and they have to be one of these file types, .gif, .tiff, .png or .jpg, but that fits almost every image or photo that I use in my own research and probably in yours too.

When you sign up for a free or subscription account on Footnote, you need to understand the terms associated with uploaded images. They can’t be copyrighted unless you own the copyright and they will be visible to others searching the site. You still own them though. The terms are listed here.

Most of us family history researchers share our document images constantly. Birth, marriage, death certificates, passenger documents, wills, etc., are treasures we all ‘covet’. It is easier to point other researchers to an image on a website than trying to find it on our workstations and then hope that the e-mail attachment will make it through the mail servers between the two parties.

I’m now uploading my precious photos and images to the Footnote site.I won’t have to worry about my house burning down, being destroyed by an earthquake or my hard drives failing. My document images and family history photos are stored off-site at Footnote and I and others can access them any time from any computer that is connected to the Internet and has web browser software installed. To save an image back to my machine, I’ll just have to right-click on it and click ‘Save As’.

At last … a solution that solves several needs… off-site storage, access by other researchers and the fact that I’m helping the family history community. I found ‘my’ images and photos over 50+ years of research and there is no reason to plow that field twice. As other folks add their photos and images to Footnote, we will all benefit from them as well. If you don’t already have a free or subscription account with Footnote, click here to see the sign up page.<

Disclaimer. I work for the parent company of Footnote, but was not asked to write this note but rather, I asked permission to write it. I’m always looking for ‘deals’ to extend research funds for myself, my research friends and the family history community in general. The free storage at Footnote provides one more great ‘deal’ in that quest.

11 December 2007 Posted by | Research Tips | Leave a comment

Have Kit – Will Travel

After my father died a number of years ago, I realized how much I’d lost by not interviewing him and getting his stories and family history on tape. Immediately deciding to rectify this character flaw, I gathered together a small collection of note pads, pens and an old cassette tape player to make an interview kit. My wife and I were newly married and didn’t have money for a bag to hold this collection, so I kept it in cardboard box.

It remained safely in the box for several years until our first born was old enough to talk and I wanted to record her voice. That was the last time my ‘kit’ was together for a lot of years. Most of my aunts and uncles died before I again realized that all of their family history knowledge and stories went with them.

How do you forget something like that? Especially when I started my married life with the right plan and had even assembled an interview kit. The answer is simple. I never used the kit. Never interviewed my parents and other older family members. Never acted on my ‘good intentions’.

Lesson learned.

When my mother passed away, I’d finally been kicked hard enough to get me to act on my plan. I assembled an interview kit and have used it many times since. The life stories and histories captured in my interviews are priceless to myself and to the family members of those I’ve interviewed.

It is time for you to get ‘off dead center’ and interview your own family members.

What do you need in your kit? You’ll need to decide the answer to that question yourself, but I’ll tell you what I have in my interview kit.

1. A case to hold the contents. I found one at a January sale at Eddie Bauer and it is perfect. It holds everything I need unless I’m video taping the interview.

2. A small cassette recorder. Get one that uses full size cassettes. Cassettes you say? In this digital world? You bet. High quality tapes are still the best storage medium for recordings if you take care of them.

Don’t toss them in a drawer with your other ‘stuff’ and fill them with dirt, heat and strong electrical fields or you might as well throw them away to start. Keep them in a storage box, up off the floor, away from children in a secure location.

Use high quality 90 minute cassettes. They let you record for about 45 minutes per side (you’ll need every second of that time once the person you are interviewing finally starts to talk).

You can always buy a patch cable and digitize the interviews by plugging it into your tape player speaker jack and in your computer sound card input jack. Mini-RCA plugs on both ends… see Radio Shack again. All computer operating systems today have audio recorders built in them.

3. Spare tapes. Spare batteries. Spare video tapes. Spare pens and pencils. (Remember to rotate the batteries every six months or they will probably fail just when you need them).

4. A list of interview questions. I keep several pages of questions in sheet protectors in a 1/2″ 3-ring binder along with a couple dozen sheets of paper.

You’ll need the questions to start the interview process and to help get you back on track when the interview goes far afield as they always do. Highlight the questions you want answered first and put colored marks by the questions that you also hope to fit in the session. You’ll be very happy that you have the questions on your lap during the interview and surprised how blank your mind goes when you need to ask something intelligent about 40 minutes into it. I’ve posted two of my lists here and the 2nd one here.

5. A digital recorder if you want to use it instead of a tape recorder. I have a little Sony IC Recorder that has enough capacity to hold several hours of speech and it works great. I also use it to record my own verbal life history when I’m in the oddest places. You take advantage of snippets of time when you have them….

6. A small directional microphone and stand. Don’t frown, just get one. You want the sound coming from the person speaking, not all the sounds in the room, house and outside that are collected by the built-in microphone in recorders. If you ever forget to use one in your interview, you’ll be sorry when you listen to your tape later. Who knew you could hear a truck three blocks away through walls?

7. Several pads of lined paper, post-it notes and throat lozenges, mints or whatever will keep the throats in the interview moist.

8. A tripod if you are using a video camera or maybe for your 35mm or digital camera.

9. A 12ft extension cord.

Looking at the list, you’d think the kit weighs 50 lbs and has to be moved around on wheels. Not so if you keep your camera(s) in their own carrying bag. My kit weighs around 4 lbs and isn’t much larger than a 2 1/2″ 3-ring binder. How did the nursery rhyme go? “It is just right”.

I timed this note for early December so you’d have a chance to tell your sweetheart(s) that you know just what you want for Christmas….. the components of the Interview Kit and updates or purchases of your favorite genealogy software.

In the week following Christmas day, practice interviewing your spouse, children, others with your new tools and immediately listen to the recordings. You’ll quickly learn what questions to ask and how to control the direction of the conversation.

Transcribe the interview and print copies for your family and your own family history storage binders. Way to go! You got it right and will always be glad you ‘got off dead center’.

5 December 2007 Posted by | Research Tips | 1 Comment