FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

FamilySearch Pilot and Beta – Manna from Heaven

I continue to rave about the records that are appearing on the FamilySearch Pilot and Beta sites thanks to all of the volunteer indexers worldwide and the LDS Church.

Brickwall after brickwall in my ancestral tree have fallen in the past few months because of the records.  I’ve turned into a sourcing maniac too.

Many, many decades ago (rocks were still dirt) I started my personal ancestral quest.  The idea of adding complete sources to your records was an odd notion at best. 

Way back then, you’d jot down research notes on your tablet with a charcoal stick and possibly include a tracing of the writing if you couldn’t readily read it at the Family History Library in Salt Lake.  Sometimes, you took the time to write down the name of the book or film you were using but typically, that wasn’t a consideration.

It wasn’t a problem until I was thirty and someone challenged my information about a sixth great grandfather.  I couldn’t give them references to prove the accuracy of my old handwritten note.  My data was correct, but finding the original source took hundreds of hours and considerable cost.

Lesson learned.  Genealogy data without sources are just ‘nice’ stories but not anything to be taken seriously.

Since that day, a large percentage of my time has been spent ‘proving’ my own research.  I’ve only found one error so far, but even evidential sourcing wouldn’t have resolved the problem created by a town clerk two hundred years ago.

The effort has been worth it.  I am passing on proven information to our descendants as well as sharing it with the world.

The advent of online documents has been a boon to all researcher.  I’ve certainly benefitted from it since almost day one of the DARPA project that created the ‘Internet’. 

Today, I revel in the documents and data being posted in the various FamilySearch online databases.  I’ve used and loved most of the commercial genealogical venues since their first publication but FamilySearch documents are the ‘sweet spot’ in providing the exact information needed to break down my ancestral brickwalls.

I don’t have to travel too far to get to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and have spent untold hours perusing the films, books and documents available there, but none of that time and effort produced the information needed to solve the mystery of those particular problems.  Worse, I had to wear slacks and fit the library hours into my schedule. 

FamilySearch Beta and Pilot let me work in my old comfy pj’s during the wee hours of the night when the dust of the day has settled.  Given enough time at the library, I would have probably found the same documents but the online record searches are so fast and fruitful that my visits to the library will be limited to specific hard to find records and other visits associated with teaching my family history students and grandchildren how to use the wonderful resources of the FHL.

Records continue to be indexed and posted on the FamilySearch site at record setting levels.  That effort will only grow as time goes on until all of the documents in the ‘Granite Vaults’ that can be published online are published.  I hope I live long enough to see that milestone become reality.  If I think I’ve had success in breaking down brickwalls using the FamilySearch sites already, wait until that day arrives!  

FamilySearch records already serve up a genealogy Christmas morning every day.  The records that are continually added to the sites will stretch that feeling onward for years to come.  

We know that the Pilot and Beta sites will eventually migrate into the newly written FamilySearch.org site / portal.  The inclusion of all of the other family history resources into a single site will make the combined resources that much richer.

Thanks FamilySearch!   Thanks to all of the other volunteer indexers worldwide.  You are “making our days” both collectively and individually, now and in the foreseeable future. 

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26 July 2010 Posted by | Research Tips | , , , , | 1 Comment

Genealogy Research Live in Palm of Your Hand

I know that a number of you have iPhones.  You probably aren’t aware that you can purchase an application to let you access new FamilySearch on your phone!  Check out the mobileTree application. 

mobileTree iPhone app I keep much of my genealogy and research on my website (some public, some password protected).  Combine online data with mobileTree and the available GPS application and you have a Killer tool for doing genealogy research!

Imagine…..  The billions of records of nFS, your own data, photos, and ability to interface with all of them using a device that fits in the palm of your hand.   Visit a cemetery, get the GPS coordinates of ancestors graves, take a photo of their headstones and post it all to your site and blog(s) on the spot.  No wasted motion or memory loss!  Wow!

If you have an iPhone, I’ll bet Santa would be happy to give you this application if you ask for it.

Continuing on this theme …..

You may not know that you can post your cemetery, research and other photos directly to your blogs via email.   Both Posterous and blogger.com allow postings this way.  All of the posts to my posterous blog are made that way.  

Suppose you are working with family and friends on genealogy and you are on a research trip.  You can share your finds with them in real-time using this method.  I usually have to find a WiFi hot spot or do a little juggling on a public computer at a library or at the FHL to make on-the-spot posts.  

When you have a active research team but haven’t worked together in real-time, you can’t imagine how the synergy in the groups builds momentum and success in your research.   They help guide your on-the-site search with information they have in their far-flung locations.

I’ve frequently experienced this synergy in real-time and guarantee it happens.   Add Skype to the mix for live video, voice and peer-to-peer file transfers and you too can make it ‘Happen’ — Real Time!

Wow #2!  I may have lived long enough to see some of my dreams become reality!  

The tools are here.  Make it happen.

16 November 2009 Posted by | Family History, Genealogy, GPS, Headstones, Research | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Twig That Knocked Down A Brick Wall

None of the descendants of Hiram Anderson had been able to find his ancestry.  A single scant clue to his lineage was in the note stating that he was born ‘on the north branch of the Potomac River.

Single individuals and cousin groups had searched for the meaning of this phrase for years.  Finally, two cousins who live many states away contacted me via the web and our ancestral musings rekindled the quest.

I lived closest to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, so the task to spend whatever time required to break this brick wall in our ancestry fell to me.  There were only two days available in my schedule for months ahead, so I spent them at the library from door opening to door closing.  If a book or film had any reference to any Anderson in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia or West Virginia, I copied the page, listed the source reference on it and tucked it into my briefcase to review later during late night hours at home.  My time in the library was too valuable to spend any of it analyzing the pages.

There were a lot of promising clues but none detailed any facts that could tie our Hiram Anderson to the Anderson families in that area.

ForsheyAndersonTwig.jpgNight after night, I extracted the facts on the photocopied pages into a new database that I’d created for this quest.  All the handwritten notes, drawings and poor copies were scanned and enlarged to be studied on my computer monitors.

This activity continued for weeks with no success and then one night I noticed some tiny writing on the branches of a hand-drawn image of a family tree.  Hiram’s uncle had long ago had drawn the tree for his extended family and a copy of it survived to be published in a family history.  When I enlarged the area of interest by 500%, Christmas arrived early.

There, detailed in small print, was the name of Hiram Anderson with the correct names of his siblings.  He was the son of William Anderson and Nancy Ann Forshee.  The puzzle pieces all fell into place.  Because his parents names were in the database that I’d created from the research copies, I was able to construct both sides of Hiram’s ancestry for several generations.

Hiram’s parents move their family from Anderson’s Bottom in Hampshire County, Virginia west to Fairfield, Ohio in April 1806. In February, 1807, Hiram’s mother died leaving William with six children. The youngest, Rachel, was only two years old at that time. The family struggled to survive on the frontier, building a log home, clearing the land for farming and growing enough food to eat.

As with most early settlers in frontier settings, births, marriages and deaths were usually only recorded in a family bible, if they were recorded at all. This was true for the Anderson family.

William Anderson’s father, Thomas Anderson, served as a captain in the Revolutionary War and was involved in the surrender of Cornwallis that effectively ended the war. He had also served as a captain in the local militia protecting the settlements in western Virginia from attacks by the Indians and British. Both he and his father, William, knew George Washington personally. As a young man, General Washington worked as a surveyor and frequently stayed with the Anderson family. Service to their country and fellow men was deeply instilled into the hearts and minds of the men of the Anderson family.

At the outbreak of the War of 1812, William Anderson and three of his brothers joined the militia in defense of the fledgling United States against the British and their Indian warriors. Three of the brothers didn’t survive to returned home. Among them was Hiram’s father, William Anderson, who had died at Fort Malden, Ontario, Canada. Hiram was left to support and raise his younger siblings alone.

No wonder birth, death and other records were difficult to find. A move to the frontier where record keeping was scarce. A mother dying soon thereafter leaving a husband and six children scrambling to survive and carve out a home and farm from the raw land. A war that took the father from the home to never return.

I’d love to shake the hand of my great grand uncle who drew the family tree so there was a record of Hiram’s lineage that was created by someone who knew him personally.

Fortunately, several primary and many secondary sources were in the stack of copied records about the Anderson Family.  Because I had time at home to carefully sift through the pages, details emerged that helped fill blank lines in my database. They also pointed me to other areas to search including specific documents and sources that were in the Library in Salt Lake and some that required written requests and associated fees.

The twig on the tree expanded to bring down our brick wall.  To date, we have only found circumstantial evidence of Hiram’s ancestry in other records.  The hand-drawn tree by his uncle is the only record that lists Hiram with his parents.

Sometimes the smallest clues bring great rewards.  Moral: Never give up.  Check, double check and even triple check all of the data from your research.  The smallest element may be the seed that expands to break down your brick wall.

15 July 2009 Posted by | Documents | , , , | 1 Comment