FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

Death Certificates and Other Research Tools

The resources available for family history researchers has never been greater with another 30+ million records added to the FamilySearch.org site in the past few months. Volunteer Indexers like you and I are constantly working to add indexed information and images to the FamilySearch site, so as grand as the number of records are now, wait a few months and the number will drastically increase again and again and again.

familysearchFamilySearch Indexing I hope you are one of the volunteer indexers who are bringing the wealth of the records in the granite vaults to light in the digital world.

Check out the records collections on the FamilySearch Beta site and see how many records you find on your own ancestral families.  Save this link and check back often.findagrave

Find-a-grave An amazing amount of ancestral data and records can be gleaned from the pages of Find-a-grave. Folks are linking the memorials of their ancestral families together on the site with a seemingly frantic pace. I constantly find information about our ancestral families and extended cousins on the site. Missing dates, spouses names and their families are the reward for spending a few minutes on the site.

Births Marriages Deaths Some of you may have ancestors or extended family that lived in Australia and New Zealand. Both countries have great sites that offer indexes to births and marriage as well as very easy to use document ordering pages. I’ve obtained marriage and death certificates from both countries and it couldn’t have been easier.

While on the subject of Death Certificates, be sure to check for family death certificates on the sites of many states that offer them online at no cost. Just copy the image and save it to your hard drive for printing and use in your genealogical sources.

Many folks aren’t familiar with the great Special Collections and Family History records available online from BYU-Idaho. I’m constantly surprised at the records that I find on the site.

Family History records make a great Christmas present for family members. Share the wealth of your work with them this year.

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28 November 2010 Posted by | FamilySearch, Genealogy | , , | Leave a comment

Lives Intertwine ~ Small Town Doctors

Tracing ones lineage often uncovers forgotten facts and interrelated events in the lives of individuals and their families throughout the ages.

While transcribing thousands of death certificates for my ancestors and their extended family, the signature of one doctor, John Franklin Noyes, rose to a level prominence in my mind.

As one a couple of group of doctors in early small town Utah, Dr. John Franklin Noyes was usually present at significant events in the lives of my family.  He certified the deaths of scores of the family.  He was present at the time of many of their deaths and at many births in the family.

John Franklin Noyes MDDr. John Franklin Noyes His surname was readily identifiable due to his clearly written signature.  The name of his son, Kenneth Noyes, was prominent in my memory too because he was the doctor that delivered me and later administered shots to my tiny quivering fanny.  Well, it wasn’t always tiny, but whenever I visited his office and he had me stand on a stool, drop may pants and would say, “I hope the bees don’t sting anyone here today”, it did quiver.
Kenneth Noyes MDDr. Kenneth Eugene Noyes Dr. Kenneth Eugene Noyes, served as the family doctor during my life.  He sewed my fathers thumb back together after he ran it through a table saw.  He sewed my scalp back together after it caught a thrown hammer.  He patched, prodded and prescribed our bodies for many years.  The surname ‘Noyes’ was burned into my basal memory.
John Franklin & Siddie Chipman Noyes Tombstone – Am. Fork, UT When taking volunteer photos for Find-a-grave, I encountered the tombstones of both of these doctors and their families.  When I later posted the days photos to the FAG site, I was surprised to find  that no one had posted photos to their memorials yet.

These men were ‘institutions’ in town for three or four generations of families.

John Franklin Noyes marker Later, while scanning photos for family histories, I came across the photos of each of these doctors that my mother had clipped from newspapers.  Looking at them brought back memories from my youth and spurred interest in the Noyes ancestry.
Kenneth Noyes MD headstoneKenneth and Leona Field Noyes tombstone  -American Fork, Utah Surprisingly, I found that some of their ancestors lived in the same small area in Leeds, Ontario, Canada at the same time as my ancestors.  Both families joined the early LDS Church and moved to Nauvoo, Illinois just in time to be persecuted by mobs and driven out of their homes in the dead of winter.  Their ancestors survived that experience.  Several of mine did not.

The unusual death certificate.  Dr. Noyes certifying the death of his father, Dr. Noyes.

Both families eventually settled in the same small town in Utah.  Children from the families intermarried, but over the years and generations that history was forgotten.

These families had survived the same causality events, but their occupational paths diverted.  One became farmers the other doctors.

How many people do we encounter in our lives that have ties to us?  When filling in the ‘color’ of the stories in our family history, there are probably more than any of us realize.

30 August 2010 Posted by | Death Certificate, Genealogy, History | , , , , | Leave a comment

Find-a-Grave Gold

Over the years, I’ve spent thousands of hours taking photos of tombstones for my genealogy research and to post on Find-a-grave.   At times, some of the tombstones have turned out to be those of relatives that I’d yet to discover.

The hours spent taking tombstone photos and later cropping and massaging them has been an effort but I’ve been well-paid as I learned a little about the people they memorialized and the communities of their time.   Life was different for them than we enjoy. Repeatedly seeing families with numerous infant deaths witnesses that fact, but the family groupings also witness family strengths as generation after generation are buried within a stones throw of each other.

Posting photos of the tombstones I’ve visited on Find-a-grave has been a great way to Pay-it-forward and thank others for their help in my ancestral quest.  They live in locations I can’t visit and have taken time to post similar photos on find-a-grave, work on indexing for FamilySearch, etc., and I’ve benefitted from their efforts.  Similar activities on my part just add to the reference pool that all of us can freely access.

These resources have become an integral part of my research routine.  Family linkages, photos, documents and data being posted on find-a-grave at an ever increasing rate has turn the site into a ‘must search’ in my research quests. 

Recently, I spent an evening looking through my records specifically searching for extended family members whose existence has been all but impossible to prove. 

Searching find-a-grave for them provided three positive hits in succession.  ‘Hits’ is a mild descriptive compared to the data about that branch of the family that had been posted on the site in recent months by someone paying-it-forward too.

Tombstone photos, person photos, vital record documents and text told the stories of the lives in this family.  Moves eastward rather than westward surfaced as did the shift in spelling of their surname.  No wonder we hadn’t been able to find them for so long.  They had indeed ‘faked’ us out with their jigs and jags.

If you haven’t already included find-a-grave in your research plan, add it.  Don’t hesitate to add information and images to the records of your own family members on the site.  If you didn’t create the memorial, ask the creator to add the data and make the links you send to them.   Sometimes, they will transfer the memorial to you if the record isn’t part of their own family.

Over time, we’ll undoubtedly see a lot of additional data added to the site.  Be sure to check back.  Users of the site almost universally feel a need to take the time to link family records together.  I’ve linked my own ancestors records and families together for many generations to help my cousins in their own ancestral quest even though I have their records on my own websites. 

You’ll find yourself doing the same thing when you work on your own family memorials on find-a-grave.  Bet you can’t link just one… 

 

20 August 2010 Posted by | FamilySearch, Genealogy | , , , | Leave a comment

Abandoned Cemeteries

I’ve spent several years trying to find the actual burial location of a great granduncle and his family.  I knew where they had died but the family was not mentioned in any of the burial records of cemeteries in the area.

Last week, I found the mention of the Simeon Cemetery in Cherry County, Nebraska.  Where was it?   As it turns out, it is located on a farm about 20 miles southwest of where the family died.

Of course, my first thought was to see if anyone had walked through the stones and later posted the data about them on Find-a-grave.  In my initial search, it wasn’t listed, but last year, a wonderful person added many tombstone inscriptions from the cemetery in conjunction with its creation in the Find-a-grave database. 

Although my family wasn’t included in the listings, I had enough information to create memorials for them.  Unfortunately, the exact location of the cemetery wasn’t listed with anything other than the cemetery name.

After one last search a posting about the cemetery surfaced.  The search results included a posting written by Marianne Beel of Valentine, Nebraska that was complete with the transcriptions of inscriptions of the 68 tombstones she was able to read.  Of even more help in my quest, she’d noted that the cemetery was on the P. H. Young Ranch 25 miles south of Valentine in Section 12, Range 29, Township 31. 

Launching the Acme Mapper website made it easy to find the location of the cemetery on the USGS maps on the site.  A quick click and a satellite photo of the area was on the screen.  A jog in the dirt road established an fixed geographical feature in the image.   Launching Google Earth, I was quickly able to zoom in on the earth photo and spot the old trees on the sides of the cemetery.   Clicking on the cemetery to establish a fixed location, a quick glance to the bottom of the screen gave me the exact latitude and longitude of its location. 

I passed that information on to the folks at Find-a-grave who have since updated the cemetery record with its exact location. 

There were only a few burials in the cemetery in the last 50 years with the last one dated September 1974.  Looking at the aerial photo, it is readily evident that it doesn’t receive much traffic and little if any trimming and maintenance, but now folks looking for the location can find it by just visiting the Find-a-grave site.

How many abandoned cemeteries are in the U.S. let alone in the world?  Genealogist love tombstone information not necessarily because it is correct but it is a good indicator and it usually gives them the final resting place of their loved ones.

Searching for abandoned cemeteries on the net, turns up a frighteningly large number of results and that is just the cemeteries that have been included in postings on the web.  The results listings seem to go on and on as you modify your search terms.

State, church, civic and other entities are frequently included in the results asking for help or telling how to restore abandoned cemeteries. 

In my wide excursions throughout the west, I’ve found numerous cemeteries in abandoned towns, mining locations and old waystops.  The wooden markers are rarely readable but in some cases the writing is still legible.  I’ve taken photos of the markers and have donated them to local officials and groups who live in the area and say that they will do ‘something’ to ensure the burials aren’t lost to history.  Thus far, that promise is rarely kept.

In the west, the old burial ground are typically overtaken with sage brush in the valleys and forest growth at the mining sites in the mountain.  They could be cleaned and at least partially restored by half a dozen adults with willing hands in the course of a day.  In the east and locations with abundant growth, they may take longer, but the the work can be completed with focused effort.

Are you looking for a good deed opportunity in relation to your interest in genealogy and ancestry?  Consider taking your family, organization, scout troops on a day trip and reclaim one of these sacred sites.   Pay it forward.  You efforts will pay you back with interest one day.   Guaranteed.

Thanks to all of you have already engaged in this wonderful work.

27 April 2010 Posted by | Cemetery, Headstones, Tombstone | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Santa of Gold Hill – A Find-a-grave HERO

Recently, a television program showing current day scenes of the famous towns and locations from the “Old West” caught my eye.  A couple of scenes featuring the cemetery in Gold Hill, Nevada reminded me of my visit there.  We were in a hurry to reach our destination in California, so my desire to stop and patrol the cemetery was shelved.

I love stopping at cemeteries that I spot when driving and reading the tombstone inscriptions.  They frequently educate me far more completely than reading a history of the area.

Of course, I always take photos of tombstones in these locations.  How can you miss an opportunity like that?

Gold Hill Cemetery.  Has someone stopped and taken photos of the tombstones already and posted them on Find-a-grave?  Yes, indeed and in this case, the Santa’s name is Herbert Rickards.   I call him ‘Santa’ because of the masterful work he has done in capturing not only photos of the tombstones, but his superhuman efforts in finding their respective 100+ year-old portrait photos.

Descendants of anyone buried in Gold Hill will certainly call Herbert “Santa” as well when they find his postings.  Check them out for yourself.

Singing praises of Herbert is easy when you see his work …. but wait … there’s more!

Look at his postings and you’ll also see that he has also researched the life history of each person and posted it on their memorial.

Above and beyond?  Way beyond.  Find-a-grave_logo

There needs to be a “Find-a-grave Hero” award created for folks like Herbert. I don’t have artistic skills, so my contribution to his award can only be in words.  Perhaps some of you can add your talents and create a graphic award for folks like Herbert.  If so, let the folks at Find-a-grave know.  Who knows?  Maybe they’ll think it is a feature worthy of adding to their site.

5 December 2009 Posted by | Headstones, Tombstone | , , , | 1 Comment

Find-a-grave Comes of Age

When I started posting tombstone photos and histories on the Find-a-grave website over nine years ago, the site content was still fairly small.  On rare occasion, I’d find a photo of the marker of an extended family member, but that was enough to encourage me to continue posting.

Find-a-grave_logoEventually, I posted a request for the photo of my 4th great grandfathers tombstone in Massachusetts and a wonderful volunteer quickly responded and posted it on the Find-a-grave site.  I couldn’t travel there and felt the same way as the people who had thanked me for posting tombstone photos from my part of the world.

Four or five hours on a Saturday morning photo shoot usually produces 300 – 400 photos to post on the site.  It takes me far longer to rotate, tweak, resize and crop the images than taking the photos, but that is ok because I usually find that at least some of the photos are of the markers of my own extended family.  If I could post the photos quickly, I probably wouldn’t read the names so closely or allow them to ‘ring the bell’ in my memory that causes me to search my databases for a possible family tie.

Sometimes, a search of the site turned up a marker for a family member that I’d had a difficult time finding.  Even though the tombstone information usually included only their name, birth and death years, the information still provided a death date and location that I could use to help in my ancestral quest.

I often commented that I wished there was a way to link the memorials together as families because not only could my links help other people searching for families members memorials that I’d created but links created by others would certainly be of equal value in my own ancestral quest.

Then one day earlier this year, my wish was granted by the kind folks at find-a-grave.  Users had seen the site slow down over the years and at times it was neigh unto impossible to keep a working connection long enough to post a string of new records.  We received a note asking us to be patient because the system was being ‘worked on’.

Worked on it was, because late one night the site failed while I was posting.  When I tried it again an hour later, it was up and running and the search speed was terrific.  The migration to new servers was completed.  Not long thereafter users noted some new changes on each memorial.  We could LINK Records!

Find-a-grave Family LinksSince then, I’ve seen a substantial increase of messages regarding records I’ve posted on the site.  The notes asking me to link records that I’ve created to the records of their parents, siblings, children.  With them, I spend time creating the links for families that are posted.

We are also posting a lot of individual photos, histories, family photos and other information that are turning the site into a wonderful genealogical resource.  Several weeks ago, I found the full descendancy of one of my ‘lost’ great granduncles that a distant cousin had posted.  They did a masterful job by including numerous death certificates, documented histories and comments that allowed me to track and verify the information independently.

I’ve since found that it wasn’t a one-off experience.  Other difficult-to-find lines are starting to surface.  Click, click, click and I’m climbing the tree back to our common ancestors.  Nice!

Mentioning my photo forays and postings to cousins in England, I soon received emails from them with photos of the tombstones that they passed everyday on their morning walks.  Their notes asked if I’d post them so the families of the deceased might have the images available to find in their own quests.   Nice twice.  I couldn’t visit England to take the photos and truth is … even if I did visit, I’d be too busy finding my own ancestral records and homes to take time out to take photos of tombstones in locations I had no reason to visit.

If you haven’t visited Find-a-grave for a while, visit today.  Check to see if some of your own ‘lost’ relatives have been found and linked by a kind unknown cousin.

If you don’t already have an account, sign up and join in the fun.  It’s free!  Pay-it-forward by taking tombstone photos in your area and posting them on the site.   Payment will return to you.  Possibly in unlikely ways but always with a lot of interest.

15 October 2009 Posted by | Genealogy | , , , | 3 Comments

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