FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

Thanks! – William Guyselman – A County Recorder

Every once in a while we find written entries in our ancestors records that make our day.  Yes, it may be ‘THE’ record that crumbles one of our ancestral brick walls or it may be a piece of information that although important, is just a piece of an overall well-sourced record.

Then, there are the men who entered information in records with a flare.  Sometimes the flair consists of fancy script embellishments, at other times it is concise handwriting that fills the page of a census record.  And then, there are the men who spent long hours entering the facts associated with births, deaths and marriages but still had the blossom of art in their hearts and pens.

William A. Guyselman was one such fellow.

I first encountered his entries as a recorder in the Marriage Books of Macon County, Missouri while looking for the marriage date of my great granduncle, Alfred Farrar.

There it was … on page 69.  Alfred Farrar married Emma F. Sawtell on the 7th day of June 1869 in Macon County, Missouri.  William’s script was beautiful, readable and structured to be attractive to any future reader. 

While the tall, leather-bound book would never be a best seller, William Guyselman took pride in his work and frequently embellished its stark pages with hand drawn works of art to commemorate the extremely important marriage event in the lives of citizens of Macon County.

Farrar Alfred Sawtell Emma marriage license art2

Page after page of superbly written flowing text and art unfold as you scroll through the pages he wrote.

His own marriage to Nancy Jane McKee is recorded with an eagle comprised of scrolls and flourishes from his pen.

Guyselman William McKee Nancy Jane marriage certificate art2

I feel an affinity to William and wish I could tell him ‘thanks’ face to face.  I’ve spent more than five decades puzzling out the scribblings and markings of tens of thousands of recorders.  Every time I encounter a document written by a recorder who had good penmanship and used it in the performance of their duties, I offer a verbal ‘Thanks’ hoping it will wend its way to them.


 McKearp Nelson marriage certificate art2

Wondering what happened in William’s life, I spent a little time seeking his records.  

In 1850, he was listed as a 10-year-old son of John and Sarah Guyselman in Warsaw, Kosciusko, Indiana.

By 1860, the family had moved to Wayne, Buchanan, Missouri, where the family was recorded as ‘Gisleman’ in the census.

1870 found him as a young married man in Macon, Macon County, Missouri.  He is listed as being 30 years of age and a school teacher by occupation.  His wife, Nancy was 17 and their son John as two months.  His short stint as the recorder for Macon County may have already been over.

In 1880, he was forty, lived in Breckenridge, Colorado with his wife Nancy and three children, William Jr., Lou and Emma.   He reported that he was an attorney by profession and was born in Ohio, while Nancy was born in Indiana and their children in Missouri.

My uncle Alfred Farrar was married in 1869, thus, William Guyselman was about 29 years of age when he served as the recorder of Macon County, Missouri.

Guyselman William recorder art2  In 1900, he still lived in Breckenridge.  The census says that he was born in November 1839 in Ohio, still worked as an attorney, but unfortunately, Nancy had died.  Two sons still lived home with him, 13 year old McKee and 10 year old Plain. 

During the Civil War, William served as a corporal in the Union Army.  He enlisted in Company A, Illinois 113th Infantry Regiment on 15 August 1862 in Chicago until he mustered out on 19 October 1863 and transferred to the U.S. Signal Corps. 

His military service proved to be providential because in his 70’s he was able to both claim a military pension and assistance from a military home, the front runner of today’s veterans hospitals.

By 1923, William had been in and out of a military home six times.  He had served in the army as a private from August 1862 through the end of the ward after 1865.  His military training in the U.S. Signal Corps served him well in later life as his occupation was listed as a telegraph operator during his stays in the military home.

Guyselman William A Veterans Home

I haven’t found a death date and location for William yet, but think that the event took place in or near Breckenridge.  

Because I can’t tell him ‘Thanks’  in person for his clear writing, entertaining and reverential treatment of marriage records in the Macon County, Missouri vital records he maintained, this post is my way of remembering William.

Thanks to all the recorders and government employees past and present who took the time to write clearly.  Family history enthusiasts everywhere not only thank you but appreciate your work.  That’s a praise you probably didn’t receive on the job.


17 May 2010 Posted by | Certificates, Marriage Certificate | , | Leave a comment

Saving Death Certificates

If any of your family members died in Missouri between 1910 and 1959, their death certificate should now be online.  The state sent notification out this week that they have added the range of available certificates up to 1959 … an increase of ten years coverage. 

Several other states also offer death certificates online as well.  At least four of them are:

There is no cost to print them on your home printer.  They have put the images online as a kindness to genealogists and to avoid as much of the copying and associated labor expense as possible.

I use the free Irfanview editor to massage the image.  I recommend downloading and installing the Plugin’s too.  (Yes, there are many other excellent image editors available …  I use them too, but Ifranview works the best for me in this application.)

Simply point at the death certificate on your screen, right mouse click and choose "Copy".

Then click on Irfanview to make it the active program, then on ‘Edit’ at the top of the screen and choose ‘Paste’ from the drop down list.

You now have a copy of the image in the temporary memory of your computer.

Straighten the image if needed by using the Image > Custom Fine Rotation tool.  This tool is in degrees and there are 360 degrees in a circle.  Entering 358.3 will tilt the image 1.7 degrees to the left, etc.

When it is straight, point to the top left corner of the image, hold your left mouse button down and drag your pointer to the bottom right corner (just the opposite if you are left handed).  You can now see the crop line around the image.  If it needs to be moved a little, slowly move your mouse pointer over the line where it needs to be adjusted and when the pointer symbol changes to two parallel lines, hold the mouse button down again and drag the crop line to the position you want.

Click on Edit > Crop selection and all the edges are cropped.

Next resize the image to something that will print on 8 1/2 x 11" paper.   I always print in portrait orientation so the certificates stand upright in the protective sleeves in my storage binders, but you may want to do something different.  

In my case, I change the width to 8"     Image > Resize/Resample > Set New Size > Units = Inches > change the width to 8".  Be sure that the "Preserve aspect ratio" has a check in it.

While on this page, I typically change the resolution to 72 dpi rather than the 300 dpi used in the original image.   There is little to no readability lost and for these images, that is ok.  This saves drive space.  Try it both ways and see how it works best for you.   You’ll quickly develop a rule of thumb for images of this nature and it will usually be very different from the one you use for photo images, etc.

You may need to tweak the image for readability now too.   Tools > Color Corrections.

I save a copy of the image now.   File > Save As  (surname firstname deathcertificate) in my genealogy documents folder.   I always use the surname first when file naming so the images are automatically sorted by family making a future look up easy.

Print a hard copy   File > Print

Don’t forget to transcribe the data from the death certificate as a source in your database …  Primary source for the Death and Burial and Secondary source for the Birth…

Also tie the image you just saved to the source record for the person.  If you are using Legacy for example, it will show up as a thumbnail image by the source text in reports.


From now on, you can look at the image from within your genealogy application …. typically by clicking on it and then on the ‘Open; or ‘View’ button  ..  or by double clicking on it.

The image in this example just filled my 4th 3" binder of Death Certificates.   I’ll teach you how to number and index them for easy retrieval in another post.

25 March 2010 Posted by | Certificates | , | Leave a comment

Gold In Your Drawers

Sometimes we have to look in the mirror and shake our heads in wonder.  The person in the reflection doesn’t look as dumb as they feel, but it is hard to argue with facts.

Gold in old filesI’ve looked for clues to aid in the quest to find of one of my ancestors for years.  The results were always the same.  Nothing.  I’ve reread my research notes, rethought my research strategy and recommitted it to writing.  The new plan required plotting possible migration routes of my ancestors, deep delving into the Family History Library Catalog and subsequent printing of dozens of pages of source materials that need  to be explored at the library.  A hand clasp binder is sitting on my desk bulging with these pages, group sheets, summaries of old research activities and the new plan.

I won’t need most of them now.  One last reading of a page that I’d photocopied over a generation ago resolved much of the issue.  I had to reread it four or five times to believe what I was seeing.  I even suspected that it was a ‘new’ page that someone had slipped in to my file.  Surely, I couldn’t have missed that brief sentence so many times ….. but of course I had.

We are creatures of habit.  We form impressions that often eclipse reality.  I remember reading the document on a microfilm reader when I first found it.  I took notes from the page and even traced some of the hard to read writing on the page that day.  I’ve probably looked at the page and the photocopy of the microfilm page a hundred times since then but my mind knew what it contained, and hence, the little sentence was apparently ignored, skipped or had become invisible to my mind.

How often have you reread your old research notes and reviewed the documents you’ve collected in your own ancestral quest?  If you haven’t used a fine tooth comb review of them lately, make an entry on your calendar to look through them again.  Mine them for hidden Gold.

Perhaps we have to turn the paper 50 degrees side to side to see something new.  Thomas Jonathan 81st year Personally, I’ve found that reading the data out loud is the best method to restart my frozen cognitive research review process.  My ears hear information that the lobes of my brain used for reading seem to obscure.

Give it a try.  You’ll probably find real treasures in your papers.  Treasures that you’ve owned for years.  Treasures that may open new windows in your quest.

Once you have finished your perusal and have then settled down enough to stop exclaiming your wahoo’s (and some of the grin off has melted off your face), walk to the bathroom, turn on the light and take a good look at the clueless person who is staring back at you.  Do they look any smarter now?

Lesson learned.  Go a little slower.  Review frequently.  Look at the data through a different window.  Gold.  There is Gold in there!

28 May 2009 Posted by | Certificates, Documents, Genealogy | Leave a comment

Filing Source Documents

You have collected a stack of birth, marriage, death and other primary source documents. What do you do with them once you have transcribed the data into your database?

I suggest that you:

Gather all the birth, marriage and death certificates for your family together and put them in acid-free sheet protectors this week. Temporarily (a few weeks at most), use a post-it note or slip of paper to number them with a numbering system of your choice…(post-it on the outside of the plastic)…. This requires that you to decide on a numbering system you are going to use for referencing your documents, photos, etc.

I use the numbering system below and it works for me…. I also record all of the documents and information by number using the program Clooz and print reports from it for filing. However, a $4.00 journal with acid-free paper can fill this role too.

The secret about numbering is to be consistent in whatever system you choose. If my system doesn’t work for you, sit down and design a numbering system that feels best in your situation. You’ll be glad you thought it through early in the process… If you find that system doesn’t work, change it before you get so many records that it becomes very difficult to find the courage to change everything you’ve done….

Here is an example of how I have assigned numbers in my system:

  • Birth 0001 – Birth 9999 (when I get my 10,000th birth certificate / record, I’ll just add a digit until I get to 99,999+)
  • Blessing 0001-9999 (Usually LDS blessing certificates. See Baptisms below)
  • Marriage 0001 – 9999, etc…
  • Death 0001 – 9999 etc…
  • Will 0001 – 9999 etc…
  • Baptism 0001 -9999 etc… (we may all run out of numbers in this category and have to go to a 5 digit number here eventually. Church birth records are almost always the baptism / christening date, so as you start finding a lot of info on your ancestral families, you’ll collect a lot of photocopied pages of baptism / christening records).
  • Deeds 0001 – 9999 etc.
  • Photos 0001 – 9999 etc. You may end up with so many photos that you want to start with a 5 digit number here. It just depends on how you decide to file your family and family history related photos. You may want several titles for this category… i.e. Silva Photos 0001-9999 or Hornback Photos 0001-9999 for the folks associated with those surnames and then use the family name of the other branch (typically your spouse) for another set of photos.. It just depends on how many photos you file in relation to family history. I take photos of family headstones, homesteads, hospitals (where born / died), churches and tabernacles (where baptized) as well as panoramic views of the towns to document our lineage. If you decide that you are going to do something similar, consider that fact when you create your photo numbering system.
  • Any other categories you want to use.

When you record the source in your genealogy database, just add your personal filing number with it. Put the number on the acid-free sheet protector that holds the related document. In my case, I use a Dymo label writer (inexpensive one that prints on vinyl tape from Wal-Mart, etc.,) to create document number labels. Now, when I want to find the original document that is referenced in my sources, I just open my source books and flip to .. Death 0239 .. or whatever document number that is referenced.

Since I’ve used this system, I can always find my primary, important secondary source documents and family history photos in a few seconds. They are literally at my fingertips, safely stored in one place in consecutive order by document type. Gone are the days of documents being in various file cabinets, folders, binders, etc.

You’ll want to seriously consider ordering very good 3-ring binder(s) for these records. I use the very sturdy Wilson-Jones #367-49 binders. They come in black, blue and red and are $25+ each, are really strong and won’t fail over time.

In an emergency, after determining that our family members are ok, the binders will be the first thing we grab on the way out the door as we grab our 360-hr emergency kits (yes, we are involved in CERT)…. I also keep a set of backup DVD’s of all of our scanned photos, genealogy databases, etc. in one of the binders as well as in our emergency kits.

Keep your binders filed standing upright, in a cool place, out of the sun and reach of children. You should also consider including a copy of either your genealogy software on one of the DVD’s or the original program CD’s. You’ll want the software so you can recreate your databases, photos and documents when the ‘dust’ settles if an emergency occurs….

2 May 2007 Posted by | Certificates | Leave a comment