FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

FamilySearch and BYU Genealogy Resources

The past few weeks have marked a dramatic interest surge in the LDS Church’s FamilySearch resources and products. The folks at FamilySearch invited a group of genealogy bloggers to Salt Lake where they were given excellent presentations about the projects that are offered to the public free of charge.

While most people had heard of the records Indexing project, few of them were familiar with the user driven and written FamilySearch Wiki that contains literally tens of thousands of excellent articles to help genealogists be successful in their research quests. Even if you have visited the Wiki in the past, you will undoubtedly find new articles on it now that will help you find your ancestral families.

The bloggers came away from the presentations in awe at the size and scope of the projects underway at FamilySearch and have been blogging and posting notes about it on Twitter since that day.

FamilySearch_Beta_90One of the items learned is that the FamilySearch Pilot site is no longer being updated with new records. All of the records on it are now included along with all new updates on the Beta site. Many of us do not like the search field placement on the Beta site as well as it was designed on the Pilot site but the layout is being reviewed and will hopefully see some tweaks in the future. If you have comments about the new FamilySearch sites, don’t hesitate to click on the ‘Feedback’ links and pass on your thoughts. The folks at FamilySearch are listening to the user community like never before and are working hard to make FamilySearch the best genealogy portal on the web.

The design of the new FamilySearch site looks deceptively simple until you start clicking on links that take you to ever expanding lists of their online resources. Writing and talking about it doesn’t paint the picture of the depth and scope of the resources and offerings. You have to sit down and explore to actually understand how massive the resources are. Don’t worry if you become distracted by some interesting records, articles or training along the way. We all do it. Just bookmark the page you are on so you can start from there again later. Family history researchers who visit the site often feel like they’ve wandered in to a magic genealogy candy store.

There are excellent How To” online training courses on the FamilySearch site. I highly recommend taking the time to listen to the video training lessons that will help in your quest.

byu_independent_study_90Additional excellent free training courses are available from BYU’s Independent Study site. I’ve viewed and / or have taken almost every course on these sites and highly recommend them. My wife wouldn’t let me build a bowling alley in our basement so I could ‘ace’ the Bowling course offered on the Independent Study site but other than that, I have a drawer full of ‘Successful Completion” certificates in my office to impress our grandchildren. (Humor is intended here.)

Between FamilySearch and the various family history related offerings at BYU, the LDS Church has made a Herculean effort to help us find our ancestors. Not every record we’ll need in that quest is online or available (yet), but it is being worked on by good folks from all over the world who are donating their time and efforts in the Indexing project of FamilySearch. While many records associated with the Indexing project are on the sites of other entities, those organizations are working with FamilySearch so the records are indexed and links to them are in place allowing researchers to find them after instigating a search on the FamilySearch site.

This truly is a ‘great time to be alive’. The only thing stopping us from being successful in much of our ancestral quest is ourselves – by not using the resources that are now available.

3 November 2010 Posted by | Family History, FamilySearch | , , , | Leave a comment

Oral Interviews – Still Going Strong

The art of interviewing ancestors and family members has not died in America.  At least that is the indication from the flurry of requests for help and interview question lists that I’ve received this week.

The requests have come from students who attended my family history classes over the last several decades and have lost their notes.  Others came from folks I’ve never met but were referred to me.

There is nothing magic in the lists.  They are simple but help prime the thought processes as the prospective interviewer prepares for their interview sessions.

The good news is that folks are still conducting family history interviews.

Over the years, I’ve been repeated told that the promptings in class to “go interview your family” – “soon” has been excellent family history advice.

As often as not, the first person or two that comes to mind is a parent, aunt or uncle that is old, or at least old enough to have lived through a lot of family history and whose ‘expiration’ date may be on the horizon.

The lucky interviewers acted on their prompting quickly and invariably learned far more about their family history than they had anticipated in their wildest dreams.  Additionally, they came home with both audio and video files of their family member telling family stories, explaining living conditions as well as shedding light on family secrets or at least on forgotten tales.

Of course luck had nothing to do with it.  The interviewers made their luck by engaging.  Quickly.  Very quickly – after the prompt surfaced on their temporal lobe.

To a degree, they tell me that the interview almost acted like a triggers in the decease of the person that was interviewed.  Of course, the interview itself wasn’t the trigger.  It was the age or health of the family member and hence the reason they were probably on the top of the interview list.

Those who act on the prompting were rewarded and came away with great stories that they delight in repeating to family and friends.  Those who think that they’ll interview their family just as soon as they can get ‘round to it’ almost always end up sad.  Time and disease stay true to their course and the family member moves to the deceased column on their genealogy chart.

Their stories, memorized lineage facts and voices are stilled.  Lost.  Gone.

The law of ‘Round to it’ holds true to its physical image.  Round.  No edges.  Nothing protruding to lift the covers of time and expose the foundation, song, feel and flavor of family history.

Capture your past soon.  Don’t become a ‘round to it’ causality too.

28 September 2010 Posted by | Family History, Interviews | , , | Leave a comment

The Quilt in the Corner Closet

It all started with me looking for blanket in the linen closet downstairs.  It was cool sitting down while working on my server in mid-January and I finally had to admit to myself that even tough old dad’s legs get cold at times.

Not immediately spotting a manly colored blanket, I began looking through the shelves for something with a hunting scene or even one of our now long-married sons old blankets with trucks on it from their youth. 

Lifting a foot or two of the stack of blankets exposed a decidedly old faded blue material to the light.  Ugh.  Old.  Ugly color.  Why did we have something like that in the closet? 

Curious, I uncovered more of the quilt thinking I’d ask my wife if it could be used for camping or covering the tomatoes during a frost.

And then from somewhere, way back in the dusty vaults of my memory, I remembered holding this slick material in one hand and a stuffed bear in the other.  

It was the blanket from my early life.  I’d forgotten that my mother had given it to my wife decades ago. 

Why did that knowledge change my opinion of the attractiveness and value of this old collection of vintage cloth? 

Memories.  Reference points.  Love.  All embodied in a child-sized blanket that probably qualifies for landmark status under historical laws in many communities.

My wife makes memories out of cloth today.  Her blankets aren’t plain.  They are beautiful.  When she makes them for our grandchildren, they are designed with each specific grandchild in mind.  They wouldn’t be ‘right’ for someone else.

Our daughters and daughters-in-law make quilts too.  Their skills are approaching those of my wife.  As time and age slow her down and make it more difficult to sit at a sewing machine or bent over quilting frames, the younger generation will overtake the productivity of grandma. 

She’ll be there keeping her hand in the mix.  You couldn’t keep her out.  Much of her time will be spent teaching her granddaughters the quilting and knitting skills she learned from her mother and grandmother, just like she did with her daughters.

Our granddaughters have already picked up the quilting bug.  The wall above her sewing machine is covered with mini-wall hanging quilts that they have made for grandma.  The wee lasses started early.  Some of the creations were completed when they were two.  Looking at the wall, one can see the progression of time representing the ages of the girls in the neatness of their stitch.

The offer of a Picasso to replace the scene on the wall would be summarily shunned.  The little wall hangings are treasure to grandma.  They have both real and intrinsic value in her world.

Grandma’s quilts will eventually be stored away in the homes of the mature women who once were young sewing crafters.  They’ll be taken out from time to time and shown to their daughters.  “See – grandma’s label is on the back.” “She made this for me when I turned eight or when I moved into my new bedroom or when I graduated from high school or when we got married.”

They’ll have value both real and intrinsic in the worlds of these ladies too.  The fabric of the day may look different but the gold offered still wouldn’t buy them. 

You can’t put a price on memories and reference points and love.

Seeds of Never-Seen Dreams from Kayann Short on Vimeo.

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8 September 2010 Posted by | Family History | , | Leave a comment

Don’t Go Down The Stairs

Both of my grandmothers died within a couple of months of each other when I was five.  I don’t have extensive memories of them.

I know that my interest in ancestry is associated with their passing.  They were there and they were gone.  Is that what happens to grandmas?

We were eating breakfast when the call came about my mom’s mother.  We were just going to have dinner when the call came about my dad’s mother.

After the second death, I remember asking my mother if her grandparents had disappeared the same way.  Her answer involved stories of her grandparents and stories that my father had told her about his ancestry.  The hook was set.  I had to know more about them.

I knew that my first grandmother was gone because I’d seen her lying in her casket and she wasn’t talking or moving.  Not understanding all of the ramifications of death, I remember sitting through her funeral thinking “That’s interesting.”

When my second grandmother died, I had experience with this death and funeral thing.  My parents didn’t have to sit me down and explain how death works.

Grandma lay in her casket, family member greeted visitors who queued in line to express their sympathy and pay respect to grandma.  I was told to sit quietly, “Over there.”  Now, in my opinion, there wasn’t a need for a little shaver to sit quietly on a chair in the corner for hours, so I didn’t.

It didn’t take much skill to quietly move in the ‘shadow’ of the large lady who was exiting the room.  Everyone was talking and the folks in line were looking toward the family greeting line, secretly wishing the line would move faster and thinking about the exact wording they’d express when it was finally their turn to greet and shake hands.  No one saw my exit.

Free of the boredom of quietly sitting still, I continued to be quiet and strolled through the darkened offices of the mortuary.  There wasn’t anything in them of much interest.  I remembered a wide stairway that when down to some double oak doors.  I had asked mom what was down there when we’d entered the building and she told me to “Don’t go down there.”  “That’s not a place for kids.”

She may as well have told me that Santa was at the bottom giving away Red Ryder BB-guns and five pound sacks of candy.

Checking the scene for adult eyes watching me, I ducked under the red velvet ropes and quickly made my way down the cranberry colored carpeted on the stairs.

The doors on the bottom landing had rows of vertical beveled glass windows in them that were just high enough that I could only see through them if I stood on my toes and hung on to the brass door handles for balance.

White semi-sheer drapes blocked the view into the lighted room beyond.  Frustration.

And then … I spotted a place where the drapes didn’t quite meet.  Squirming, stretching, I got eye level barely higher than the bottom mullion.  I could see in.

A white haired woman was lying on a table.  She was covered by a white sheet and her face was slightly tipped toward me.

It was a dead lady!  Oh man!

I focused on her face for a minute wondering whose grandma she was …. when her left eyelid started to open.  “Nah.  It was just my imagination” I thought, and then her left arm fell down and out from under the sheet.

Newton’s laws of gravity were defeated that evening.  I really don’t think I touched any of the stairs on the way up.

I know I went between the suit-clad legs of a man standing in line, but my passage was so quick he probably didn’t realize what had just happened.

The memorial room wasn’t as boring this time.  The chair in the corner was inviting, even comfortable.  I didn’t tell my parents of my adventure.

You know the rest of the story….  That’s how I learned to not go down the stairs in mortuaries.

17 February 2010 Posted by | Family History, Genealogy | , , | Leave a 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

Watching Over My Shoulder

Like many of you, I spend considerable time doing genealogical research on my family lines.  My forays into the past often overtake my perception of where and when I am.   My mind and efforts constrict to a fine focus on the quest to find records, proofs, information and details about my ancestors lives.   I put headphones on, start the music or video library playing in a small window on my left screen for background ‘noise’ and leave the world to fend for itself. 

Frequently, I don’t remember eating, drinking or involvement in any other activity until I notice that the sun has arisen again and that I’m so stiff it is hard to stand up.  My sweet wife has apparently brought sustenance to me and checked on me from time to time to confirm that I’m in a ‘genatonic’ state and not a catatonic state, although I was on my own during the wee hours of the night.  

Death CertificateSunday afternoon has magically transformed into Monday morning.  If music was playing at the beginning of my session, it is still playing.  My library is large enough to play new songs continuously for days.  I’ve been unconsciously entertained the whole time.  If a movie was playing when I moved into my ‘genamension’ (genealogical dimension), it is still playing.  I have no recollection of restarting it over and over nor do I remember viewing any of its scenes.  The permanent ringing in my ears was offset by the soundtrack, which helped keep the world at bay so I could concentrate.

Glancing down, I realize that I’m holding a document in my hands from my quest.  On rare occasion it is the original that I’ve retrieved from my files, but usually, it is a copy that I’ve found while I’ve been traversing the halls of time.  Often, there are stacks of printed documents to the side of my keyboard, waiting to be filed in sleeves in my storage binders. 

Checking the records in my database, I note that I’ve dutifully transcribed them as sources in the records for the associated people.  Their respective document images have been cleaned up, straightened, resized, linked to my database sources and saved in the various source folders on the multiple storage drives that I use to store my records.  I marvel at all of the records that are now online and on pilot.familysearch.org.Over My Shoulder

Reading the image of the last found death record on my right screen brings a image of the person to my mind.  I know them on some deeper level than just the dates and places that I’ve discovered in my genamensional journey.  Often, I know what they sounded like, what they wore and how their houses and farms were organized.  

I am inseparably bonded to them from that point in time on.

Where did that knowledge come from?

Someone has been watching over my shoulder.

They have been whispering to me all night long, guiding my quest, cheering me on and celebrating when they are finally ‘found’.  They are mine now.  I am theirs.  The bond and ties have and will be made permanent in the coming days.

If you are intently involved in a similar quest for your own ancestors, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  If anyone were to ask you about a member of your ancestry that you’ve worked diligently to find, then they need to be prepared to sit down and listen to you describe them and their story.  They have become part of the fabric of your being.  Indeed, you are inseparably bonded to them.

On the web, the story of Sara Beth’s quest to find her 5th great grandmother, Sylvia Lewis Tyler, in her blog postings resonates with us, because Family Bible we understand exactly how she feels.  We know why she is so excited to have touched Sylvia’s journal and to have found her grave.  We celebrate her discovery with her.

I’m looking forward to celebrating the discoveries of others who are seeking to know their own lineage and family history.  BYU Broadcasting has created a new program called, “The Generations Project” that will start airing in January, 2010.  It is already on my calendar with a reminder that will start flashing on January 1 to find the exact time of its broadcast.

The sneak preview on the site shows a young lady who has slipped into her own genamension as she progresses from painting concentric circles to start her new painting to their unknown ancestral relevance in the process of her ancestral quest.  The full show should be fascinating.

What are your genamensional stories?  Post them on your blog and send me a note.  I’ll link them here.


4 October 2009 Posted by | Family History, Genealogy | , , , | Leave a comment

I Wear A Seat Belt When Doing Genealogy

I always wear a seat belt.  It makes it harder for aliens to suck me out of the window of my car.

Like most genealogy fans, I’m addicted to researching my lineage and associated families.  The addiction started over a half century ago and if anything has intensified every year since then.

MarvinMartian Many other researchers from around the world with my surname have contacted me over the years hoping to find common ancestry and to share research efforts.  Surprisingly, very few of the folks are related to me prior to the early 1400’s.  We wish we could find a closer tie, but alas, it hasn’t happened so far.

One of my ‘cousins’ has been in contact with me on and off for many years.  He hit a brick wall early in his research and hasn’t been able to topple it even with his most intense efforts.  Finally hoping to find a keyhole that peers into the lineage I’ve traced, I was asked if I’d take a DNA test hoping we’d find enough of a match to at least provide some encouragement in his quest.

Unfortunately, he asked for the DNA test results of an alien.

We waited for weeks before the first set of results arrived.  Opening them, I was relieved to see that the lab agreed that I was alive but was sad that there weren’t many other facts to explore.  About a month later, the rest of the results arrived.  My ‘cousin’ and I may be related, but if so, it is only because we both have two legs.

Intrigued with the concept of genealogical ‘research’ through DNA, I started reading about how to correctly interpret the results of DNA tests.

That may have been a bad choice on my part.  Thus far, I’ve found that I have almost no DNA ties to any other human on record.

I think I’m an alien.

I was born 14 years after my next closest sibling and due to size, coloring and interests have often wondered if I was left on the back step of my parents home and they never got around to telling me.

My oldest brother took my mother to the hospital when I was born because my father wasn’t home at the moment.  He and my mother told me the story many times.  My mother even elaborated on the story noting that the doctor said, “It’s a Boy! He has Red Hair!”, to which my mother replied, “That’s not Red, that’s Rust!”

I’ve always enjoyed that story but now that I’ve spent so much time trying to find DNA ties to other humans, I’m more disposed to believing that I was dropped off at my parents home by aliens.  I’m probably part of a major alien conspiracy that hasn’t been exposed yet.

How are you doing with the results of your DNA tests?  Are you part of the alien conspiracy too or have you been able to use them to prove ties to the humans?

To the other aliens out there, I say, “Aliens Unite!”  We may create a whole new area of research in the fascinating genealogical quest that humans enjoy.

I’m sure they’ll still accept us.  Source documentation may be harder for us, but think of the family stories we’ll have to tell!

See you in the Family History Library or on the Mother Ship.

17 August 2009 Posted by | DNA, Family History | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Tale of the Tail

I continue to receive requests for more ‘Elwood Drew’ stories.  Apparently, tales from his life are as funny to others as they have always been to me.

Born prematurely in the early 1900’s, the midwife didn’t think he would live, so she put him in a shoebox wrapped in a blanket and stuck him on the open oven door of the wood stove in the kitchen.  After caring for his mother, she was surprised to find him still alive when she went back into the kitchen.

When a horse stepped on his foot as a youngster, the horse shoe perfectly cut off his little toe.  He picked it up and took it to his mother who proceeded to clean both the toe and his foot and then sewed the toe back on with her needle and black thread.  I know this happened because he used to show the scars to me when I’d complain about getting immunization shots at school.

I remember watching him use his pocket knife to carve out several teeth that were bothering him when we didn’t have the money to go to the dentist.  Home remedies and home doctor’n were not strangers in our family.

The older generations were tougher than us I suppose.

whiskey_bottle_smPrior to World War II, my parents lived in Park City, Utah, where my father worked in the mines.  One of my mothers brothers lived with them while he too worked as a miner.

For various reasons, boils and carbuncles were more common place back then.  If you’ve ever had one or more of them, you understand how painful they are.

Late one evening, Dad and my uncle decided to use some ‘medicinal’ whiskey to try and fix a couple of extremely painful boils that were on the posterior of my uncles anatomy.

After testing the whiskey for poisons, they found that they’d used all of the contents. Dad turned and put the empty bottle on the coal stove in the kitchen to warm it up with the intent of using it to draw out the core of the boils as it cooled down.

Dropping his drawers, Earl presented the awful swellings to my father for remediation.

Dad put the mouth of the hot whiskey bottle over the worst offender and then they waited for it to cool and create the intended suction to pull the core free.

coal_stoveWhen telling me the story, he said that everything didn’t go quite as planned.  The boil wasn’t quite ‘ripe’ and the core wouldn’t come out.  The rapidly cooling bottle began to suck Earl’s posterior inside the narrow neck of the bottle.

Dad said that when a little over an inch of boil and surrounding flesh had been drawn into the bottle, Earl’s aplomb vanished and he began to dance around the kitchen exclaiming all kinds of things.

Apparently, his thought process increased significantly, because he rallied long enough to run to the side of the cast iron stove where he could literally, “twist and shout” and strike the bottle against the metal.

There must be a certain skill set required to break a whiskey bottle attached to your tush by swinging it against a stove, because it took a number of swings to do the trick.  After each swing, Earl’s exclamations became louder and the suction seemed to consume even more of his tender flesh.  Finally, the bottle broke and released its embrace on his rear assets.

Of course, by that time, all of the family had been awakened and had run downstairs to see who was being killed in the kitchen.

There was less psychological damage to the minds of my older siblings who witnessed the naked tush of our uncle than you might suppose.  None of them ever exhibited any lasting effects from the vision, but from time to time, I have witnessed tears run from their eyes when they’ve been together and revisited the ‘Tale of the tail’.

Family stories are a treasure.  I hope you are recording your own stories.

31 July 2009 Posted by | Diaries, Family History | , , , | Leave a comment