FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

Good Morning! Who Died?

I may be unique, but I doubt it.  Every morning I arise, mumble “goo morgan” to my wife and then stumble off to glance at the front page of the newspaper.  My real goal is to read the obituary page however.  Did any of my extended cousins or their spouses die? 

Logie Charles Obituary2 17 Jul 1903 lg Unfortunately, too many of them seem to be doing it now.  Also unfortunately, I’ve read the obituaries of too many younger folks and acquaintances in the last few months.  Frequently, the names on the obituary page are familiar but I can’t remember exactly how I know their name.  I dutifully read dozens of obituaries every month of people that I don’t know.  Sometimes though, the listing is about a cousin that I’ve only met through my genealogy database.

Genealogy.  That of course is the real reason I read so many obituaries every month.  I would read them to hear about friends and extended family anyway but not with such refined searches except for the possibility of finding genealogy ‘gold’ hidden in the listings.

Obituaries are invaluable resources to genealogists.  The facts in them are often wrong or “off” a little because of the stress on the family at the time but the names and places are generally accurate. 

Some obituaries are only sparsely populated while others are rich with details about the person and their life.

Obituaries from the turn of the century are often lengthy stories about the deceased individual. 

The obituary for one of my great grandmothers is almost a half page long, complete with her photo and comments by friends and religious leaders.  When I found it, I didn’t even try to obey the ‘Silence’ signs in the library.   “Hah!”  “Look at that!”  My exclamations gained the attention of everyone on that floor. I could only manage a grin and a finger point at the page before finally telling them that “I found my great grandmother”.  Shaking their heads at the eccentric behavior of one of those ‘genealogists’, the other patrons went back to their studies and research. 

The smile on my face stayed in place all day.  I greeted everyone a little more cheerfully during the visit and had extreme patience with the young desk attendant who tried to restock the paper in the copy machine.

Frequently, I find obituaries or death articles in digital newspapers online.  Sometimes, I can’t imagine why they are in a newspaper from a distant town, but am grateful because the local newspaper of the time was destroyed by uncaring corporations who purchased the name and subscriber list of the local publication, but had no interest in the years of published content.

Absent the indexing and hosting of online digital images of newspapers, I wouldn’t have found the majority of the obituaries now safely stored in my sources folder.

Are you enjoying similar success with similar finds in your own research?  If you haven’t, don your Sherlock cap and enter into the fray.  Today is a good day to put a smile on your face too.  

When you have thoroughly mined the Internet and need to physically visit a library, take the stairs and not the elevator.  Unfortunately, they probably won’t be quite like those in this video though.



21 October 2009 Posted by | Genealogy, Obituaries | , , , | Leave a 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

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

Just Try Another Window

While trying to help one of my wife’s cousins find a remarkably hard to find Utah Death Certificate online today, I noted a new feature that has been added to the Utah Death Certificate Index.

We know that census records often contain spellings that are a best effort by the census taker, either because they couldn’t spell, didn’t hear the name clearly or wrote exactly what was said in the brogue of the speaker.

Unfortunately, that same rule also applies to some degree with early death certificates.

In this case, my wife’s 4th great grandfathers name is Lars Mouritsen.  I finally found his death certificate under Mountsen.

Growling about the number of spelling combination’s I’d tried to that point, another thought came to mind…..

Checking my database, I noted that we didn’t have a copy of the death certificate for his wife, Maren Sorensdatter Mouritsen.   I couldn’t imagine why I’d forgotten to get it long ago but as soon as I started to search for it, I discovered the reason.    The culprit was another spelling ‘opportunity’.

After twenty minutes of fruitless searching, I finally manually went to the Utah Death Certificate Index page looking for a ‘hints’ link.  (yes, ladies, men will eventually abase themselves to the point that they read instructions).

Fortunately, I was able to forgo that fate.  A new set of search fields has been added to the index page that allows searches by death day, month and year as well as by county.

As you can see from the screen cap of the way Maren’s name was written on her death certificate, there was little chance that I would find it ….  who knows how the indexer read it, let alone the fact that she was apparently called by a nickname, “Maria”.

Sorensdatter Maren Mouritsen Death Certificate name entry

The new search fields, allowed me to simply enter Maren’s death date and Cache county in the fields and bingo…. we now have a copy of her remarkably incomplete death certificate….

Utah Burials Index search by date

So, if you have problems finding the death certificate for your family member in the Utah Death Certificate Index, don’t bother reading the instructions.  Just scroll down the page a little and use the dates and or county fields to resolve your quest.

Men ….  you are welcome….   the tragedy of having to read instructions is avoided yet again…

20 September 2009 Posted by | Death Certificate, 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