FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

A Shovel On His Shoulder

I was out on the front lawn playing with my dog when I heard someone whistling.  Looking up, I saw my great uncle Si Bennett walking down the road toward our house with a shovel over his shoulder.

He wore his old sweat stained Stetson hat, bib overalls and work boots.  I don’t think he stood much over five foot five or six inches tall.

Bennett_Si Dark hair, hands like knurled oak brush roots and a face with canyons on it in place of wrinkles finished the picture.  One of the old-time standards could be heard coming from his puckered lips as I watched his eyes latch on to the six year old boy ahead.

Nodding to me and asking how I was this fine morning, I had to ask although I already knew the answer;  “Going up on the cemetery to dig a grave Uncle Si?”

“Yep!”  I don’t remember who he told me had died, but he was headed up to hand dig the grave.

The Alpine cemetery is really just a big hill comprised of mostly granite sand and small round rocks that were deposited by Lake Bonneville thousands of years ago.

Digging graves in that hard dry soil was difficult at best.  Si’s once pointed shovel attested to that.  The blade wasn’t much more than half as long as it was when it was new and it was worn closer to a square nose than a ‘good’ digging shovel should be.

Si didn’t have the money to buy a new shovel, but he cared about treating the dead with respect.  Irregardless of the difficulty of opening the grave, it would be ready before the funeral party arrived that day.

I don’t know how many graves uncle Si opened and closed on that hill but the count was high.  He opened the graves for his parents, several of his siblings including my grandmother and grandfather, several nieces as well as many friends and town folks.

Si and his wife Alberta spent many days pouring through old burial records finding information on those buried on the hill with no markers.  Over the years, they identified most of their final resting places and properly recorded them in the sextons burial records for the cemetery.

Later in life Si used to like to sit by the coal stove in the kitchen in the evenings to read and nap a little before going to bed for the night.

One evening his youngest daughter came home from a date and noted that her father must have just nodded off because the rocker was still slightly moving.

Virginia went into her parents bedroom to tell her mother about her date and to visit for a few minutes.  Aunt Alberta said “Tell your dad to get up and come to bed or he’ll be too stiff to get up”.

Virginia shook Si’s shoulder and delivered the message but received no response.  Uncle Si had peacefully stepped out of his body and moved on.

Si and Alberta are buried in the Alpine Cemetery now.  The records they so carefully kept are now part of the official city burial records for the cemetery.  Alpine_graves_sm

Partly to honor their service, I’ve  spent time taking photos of every headstone in the cemetery and have created records for the deceased they represent on Find-a-grave.com.

I saw uncle Si’s respect for the dead over and over as a youth.  Some of it must have rubbed off on me.

How about you?   What acts of kindness have you witnessed that have become imprinted on your personalities?   How many of your characteristics are rubbing off on your family and those who know you?

We all just Pay-it-forward don’t we?  Try to to find an act of random genealogical kindness that you can perform for someone today.  It counts.  Guaranteed!

30 October 2008 Posted by | Cemetery Records | , | Leave a comment

3.5 Terabytes

Not that long ago, or so it seems, I built a computer with 8k of RAM memory.  Coupled with a little cassette player, I had all the data storage in the world.  I wrote my own little genealogy program in basic and my research life was great.

Skip forward ‘a while’.

After an all night session of scanning photos and documents, I named an image and hit save only to receive an out of space error.1tb_drive3 What?  Out of space?  How could a 750 gig drive that was less than a year old be out of space?  Looking at its properties, it really was full.  All that was on it was copies of my most used databases, photo and document images.

Full.  In nine months it was full.  I’m sure you’ve noticed that you are filling up your hard drives quickly too.  It is so easy to accumulate large files with the scanning hardware and related software that we have today.

My data is backed up regularly and so of course additional hard drives are needed for that task.   Backing up to Mozy is also part of the mix, but I like to have my data on site for instant access too.

With the out of space error, I ordered another 1TB drive.  It arrived a few days later I and put it to use.  Here we are 1 month later and I just noticed that it is about 40% full.  Factor in backing up the new data and I’m almost out of space again.

Where will it end?

My off site plan of sending DVD’s containing my genealogy data to our children in rotating order isn’t working with that much data.  The DVD’s just don’t hold enough data to make that feasible any more.  Maybe I’ll start mailing 1TB or larger hard drives to them that hold just the ‘important’ files.

I keep 16MB memory sticks full of just the direct line data and some photos on them in our emergency kits.  I keep them updated monthly so if all of our homes fall down in an earthquake or other disaster, hopefully that much data will survive.  It’s not much, but it is a starter seed.

What are your data storage plans?   Do you keep copies of your data in both the format used by your genealogical and other software today as well as it being in gedcom format and lossless formats of your images?   Do you keep a copy of the genealogy and graphics software you use on your backups along with the program keys and related passwords?

Additionally, formats will change quickly in the future.  We need to plan for ways to restore and read our old data formats if isn’t part our regular backup routine.  I’ve helped a lot of folks retrieve data created with old software versions.  Fortunately, we’ve found old versions of software that would still install on today’s operating systems and were able to update the data to a current standard.  Have you thought about this problem?

So, here I am, thinking about getting more storage for my data.  Its size has grown to an ‘outrageous’ number and no doubt will continue to grow.  It is time to do some serious thinking about my storage and backup plan for the next five years.  Is it time to go back to tape backup?  Do I need to build yet another storage server with raid 5 or better implementation or do I just load up my Mozy account or get one from a similar company and live with the time required to encrypt and incrementally upload my data on a daily basis?

I hope you are thinking about this issue in your own backup and storage planning.

3.5TB headed for 4.5TB.   How about you?

26 October 2008 Posted by | Research Tips | , | Leave a comment

Research Tools – Didn’t You Know?

“How’d you do that?”

I probably hear that question ten times a week and am a little surprised that folks don’t already use the same tools themselves.

You may not be using these tools in your own ancestral research, documentation and presentations but you should give them a try.  I think you’ll like them.

  • Irfanview.  Other than Legacy, I use this tool more than any other.  Crop, resize, resample, tweak, massage and save your images in 22 formats with Irfanview.  Get it.  Get the plugin’s too.  It’s fast to load, easy to use and its free.
  • FastStone Image Viewer.  Whenever I’m working on my large collections of images, I launch FastStone.  A catalog of thumbnails is created for each directory as soon as I click on it.  The interface is a little different in that you point to each of the four edges of your screen to see the popup controls.  It is amazingly powerful.  After a day of taking photos of headstones, I immediately download them and get busy cropping and tweaking them with FastStone to post on my websites or on Find-a-grave. Try it.  You’ll love it and you won’t believe it is free.
  • Skype.  Whenever I want to actually talk, text and even see my cousins and friends around the world, I launch Skype.  “Hey John.  Remember that Will we were trying to find?  I found it!.  (The expression on his face is real time.  You have to love seeing it and hearing his Ozzy “Hey mate!”).  Get ready, I’ll transfer it to you now.”  Yep, that all happened inside of Skype.  Free.
  • Transcript.  If you go crazy transcribing all the wills, land records, letters, census records and other images like I did, you need Transcript.  Open the image in the top frame and use the word processor in the bottom frame and type what you see.  Zoom in, grayscale, inverse, rotate and otherwise tweak the image so you can see the writing better.  You never have to rotate through windows and try to remember what you’ve just seen.  Just move your eyes up and down a little and keep typing.  Free
  • Print What You See. Do you ever want to print excerpts from web pages but end up having to copy, paste, reformat, etc., to do it?  There is no need with Print What You See.  Just go to the Print What You See web site, type in the URL of the page that has the information you want and click on Go.  Select one paragraph, two, ten.  With photos, without. You choose.  Forget the ads.  Forget the stuff you don’t want.  Use the buttons on the left side to control the output.  Click on “Isolate Selected” and then on “Print”.  Nice.  Free.
  • Evernote.  Do you constantly find information on web sites that you want to save and remember?  Do you want it available to you on any computer connected to the web?  Create a free account on Evernote.   Create a snapshot, clip whatever you want, drag and drop it, email it if you want.  Do you have receipts, seminar handouts and documents that you also want at your fingertips?  Just scan them and drag them to your Evernote account.  Now your file cabinet goes with you even on your web enabled phone.  If you want to see them on your desktop, just click on your Evernote icon and search away.  Everything stays synchronized.
  • Footnote.  Want to store and share your family photos, documents, stories and histories with others?  Create a free account or subscribe to Footnote and post, annotate, create Story and Footnote pages and spotlight away.

Do you have favorite utilities and tools that you use in your research?  Post a comment or drop me a note so they can be shared with others.

20 October 2008 Posted by | Research Tips | Leave a comment

Keeping a Diary and Other Records

Since you are interested in family history, you need to be sure to keep your own living history on a regular, hopefully daily, basis.

The sad news we see today of bank failures, stock market plunges and countries falling into bankruptcy bring back memories of a very bad time in the world in the late 1920’s – early 1930’s.   great_depression

The Great Depression destroyed many fortunes and seriously impacted the lives of millions of people worldwide.

My siblings were alive at that time, but but being considerably younger I only know about its impact through family stories.  Or so I thought.

Recently, I reviewed the genealogical information my mother gave me and found an old account book that my parents and grandparents kept.  The entries tell the story.

My parents had to move back on the farm when my father lost his job as a miner.  The only lodging available to them was an old run down log cabin in Fort Canyon.  Mom said that they spent days filling the gaps between the logs with mud mixed with straw to block out the wind.

They covered the walls of the children’s bedroom with comic pages from old newspapers because they couldn’t afford anything else.

Dad worked for his cousin Dewey Bennett to earn some hard cash.  The account book entries tell the story for April, 1930.

Ten entries for cultivating for 8 hours a day.

One entry for hauling manure to the fields for 8 hours.

Seven entries for plowing the fields for 8 hours.

For all of this work, he was paid $42.50 of which $20.15 was returned to Dewey for rent and farm produce to eat.  Another $14.30 was paid to the doctor and $7.00 for clothing.  That left mom and dad with $6.85 cash to spend to support their three children for the month.

When the sheriff and posse came asking for dad’s help in finding the deer poacher, he readily agreed.  After a very long day, they returned home empty handed.  The poacher had eluded capture.   Little did the sheriff know that while my father was leading the group as far away from the cabin as possible, my mother was busy bottling the meat from the deer so her family would have something to eat.

I sincerely hope we don’t see conditions like that again.  Few people have farms today that can offer lodging and food in a failed economy.

Can I support my own family in similar conditions?   I don’t know.  I hope I don’t have to find out, but know that it is possible, thanks to my fathers handwritten entries in the old account book.

Do you have similar stories, old diaries, account books, family bibles, etc., in your possession?   If so, protect them like they are gold, but don’t forget to mine the family history ‘gold’ from them at the same time.

9 October 2008 Posted by | Diaries, Journals, Research Tips | , , | Leave a comment