Archive for the ‘Collecting Information’ Category

Map that you see on the main wiki page at FamilySearch.org

Map from the main wiki page at FamilySearch.org

Our ancestors had a tendency to move around.  If they didn’t, we probably wouldn’t have so much trouble finding their records.  When you track people from state to state, you start noticing what holds true for finding records in one state is not necessarily true in another.  Different types of records were kept during different periods in different places.  For example, those who are used to the time frame of New England vital records, which can go back as far as the 1600s, are startled to find that New York state started saving birth, marriage, and death records at a far later date.  New York finally passed a law requiring the collection of vital records in the 1880s, but it was very slow to be implemented. You can still have difficulty finding them in a number of New York towns during the early part of the 20th century.

When you start to follow your ancestor into a new state, you need to do some homework or you may miss key information. Otherwise you could hit a brick wall that you’ve unwittingly constructed yourself. So how do you find out which records were kept when and where they are located? One very good source is Ancestry’s Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources. You can check information on the various types of records available under each of the fifty states. This book is available in the Newton Free Library’s Special Collections Room for quick consultation or a more detailed read. But if you are working elsewhere and you don’t want to interrupt your work to look for a book, you have a simple alternative.  Red Book is available online at the following live link. Click on it and read away.  http://www.ancestry.com/wiki/index.php?title=Red_Book:_American_State,_County,_and_Town_Sources

But what about records outside the United States?  There are a very large number of books on family history research that deal with specific countries and even areas within a country. But for now you want to know how much trouble you are going to have tracking your line back to another country. You just want to get a general lay of the land. This is where FamilySearch’s wikis are invaluable.

If you have done much research in genealogy at all, you learn that, besides Ancestry, FamilySearch.org is one of the most extensive databases for genealogical records. The nice thing about FamilySearch is that, unlike Ancestry, it is free. Upon first discovering FamilySearch you will no doubt zero in on searching for records and thus might be likely to miss all its other resources. If you focus on the very top of its home page (as of July 2016) and run your cursor over the word “Search” you will see a dropdown menu. At the bottom of that menu you will see the word “wiki.”  Click on it and you see a map and an invitation to search the wiki by place or topic. For countries such as England that have a huge amount of literature written about researching ancestors, the topic is made manageable by the way FamilySearch sets up its main wiki page for each country.

But where do you find information for other countries where the records may not be so easily accessible?  Anyone who saw America Ferrera’s segment on TLC’s cable program “Who Do You Think You Are?” understands how difficult such a search can be, even when you have help. She was searching for information on her father’s family in Honduras, a quest made especially challenging because of the problems of record preservation by both local as well as national governments.  Specifically, where do you find basic information on the existing records of countries whose history has been filled with internal conflict?  FamilySearch’s wiki is an excellent place to start. Check out Honduras, or any other country of interest, to see what FamilySearch has done with it.  There are a number of links to information, records, and online help. Just as you would consult maps before taking a trip, it’s a good idea to know something about where you are going before you get there.


vea/29 July 2016
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  

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How can I track down records?

How can I track down records?

I became aware of LDSGenealogy through a Dick Eastman post sent to me by a genealogy buddy.  Being a skeptical New Englander to begin with, I was suspicious when I saw the name.  I know that FamilySearch.org is the official LDS family history site.  What exactly was going on with this site? Luckily my skepticism was unwarranted. The site is completely legit. The people in charge of the site explain who they are and what they are doing in their “About” section. In it they state “As members of the LDS Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), we originally designed the site to be helpful for LDS church members doing genealogy research. We have since expanded the site to include a lot of helpful information for everyone. We welcome any and all visitors who might find this site helpful.”

And helpful it is.  It is a directory of records useful to genealogists that can be found online. When you go into it, you will see a list of states, counties, and towns and cities.  You won’t waste a lot of time looking through individual subscription and free services to locate a needed record. Under each location listed there are groupings of records and where you can find them online.  If they are not online, of course, you will need to continue hunting.

There is another very good reason to take a look at the site — the articles.  They are excellent.  I’ve been doing family history research for awhile now, but each time I go into an article I learn something or sometimes remember a tip or caution that I had forgotten over the years.  Take a look at this site.  It will be well worth your time.  The home page is logically laid out, simple and straightforward.

LDS Genealogy: http://ldsgenealogy.com


vea/25 March 2016
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy

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Christmas VillageAre you looking forward to getting together with your family this year or are your feelings mixed?  Do people tend to rehash the same old disputes, comparisons, unsolicited advice, etc.?  Why not work at mixing things up? Get people sharing their family stories.  How?

Think a bit about the people who are coming. Getting family members curious about things they’ve never thought about before could be a good start. Think about the family as a whole. Where does each guest fit into the family?  Get people thinking about this family of theirs.  How far back do their memories go? Whose memories reach back the furthest? What are they curious about?  Who shares common interests?  Does one generation know information or skills they could share with a different generation? (Not just older to younger, but younger to older as well.) Do you have old family friends coming?  They probably share a few memories with members of your family that you might not know.

The Basics

Before people get together, do you have addresses, email addresses, and/or telephone numbers for all the family members at the gathering?  Collect them when people get together.  It’s also a good time to ask family members how to get in touch with other family members you’ve “always meant to contact.”

In the course of the day, you might want to ask if anyone at the gathering has done anything with the family’s history or know anyone in the family who does or did. You might be surprised at the answers you get.


I don’t think anything gets people talking faster than looking at old photographs. Do you have old family photos? Do you have any family stories about the people in them?  You could get the ball rolling by bringing some and recounting a few stories.  Hear what other people have to say. Write down their stories.  Or you could have paper pads available for people to write the stories, information or photo identifications themselves.  They should add their names so you know where the information came from. Go through after everyone has gone and just date the notes with the current date.  You know the circumstances now, but will you know where these notes came from and when ten or fifteen years from now.

You could ask people who are the oldest relative they have a photograph of. Or what is the subject of the oldest photograph they own.  Maybe they would be willing to share a copy of it.

If you are having the gathering in your own home, you might set up a collection of photographs, even if it’s just a three ring notebook with photos in acid free plastic sleeves. (You want both to protect the photos and keep them from getting mixed up.) You could set up one with older family photos.  You could set up another with people or places that need identification.  You could set up one with pictures of holidays past. If other people are bringing photos, keep them separate and protected at all times so they can all go back to their rightful owners in the same condition that they came in.  If you have a flatbed scanner set up that you use, you could ask the owner of a photograph if they would be willing to let you scan it (and return it) before they leave.

If you are in another relative’s home, look around for family photographs or other memorabilia.  Ask questions about them. You may not know some of the people in the photo.  You may know the people but not where it was taken or the circumstances.  There is always a question you can think of to get a story or at least more information.

I’ve seen suggestions about setting up a slide show of family photos on a computer or other device.  I always like the idea of flipping through the real deal.  You can go at your own pace or flip back when one photo reminds you of a story connected to another.  Though getting younger people to help you set up something technical that you can use for family to check later would get them involved.  Kids and teens are rarely asked for advice and they know things we don’t.  Helping us might get them curious about what we are doing and why we want to collect these things called stories.

Family Group Sheets and Pedigree Charts

If you want a quick visual about where people fit in the family, think family group sheets and pedegree (ancestor) charts. If you have already filled out family group sheets and pedigree charts, it might be fun to have them handy to go with the photos.  If you haven’t started yet, you might want to bring blank ones to have people fill out for them and their kids (or their parents). This is where the family group sheets really come in handy.

Talking with Relatives

270. Do not assume anything.  Always ask, especially if you are asking about something specific. Some people might really enjoy recounting memories or stories they know about growing up during or participating in historical events like the Depression, World War II, the sixties, Vietnam… For others it might bring up very difficult or traumatic events they do not want to discuss. Respect their wishes. Also don’t assume if an older relative has a problem with short term memory, that they can’t participate.  Their long term memory might be just fine.

 Two questions you might want to ask could be “Who is the oldest family member you remember?” “What do you remember about them?”

Do you know anyone interested in cooking that might be willing to help those involved with the preparation?  If the cooks don’t want someone “mucking about” with their recipes, would they be willing to share the recipes and/or talk about the memories that go with them while they are cooking? Where did they get the recipe? If not from a family member, maybe from an old cookbook.  Do they still have it? Would they be willing to have their picture taken while cooking? (Digital camera anyone?)

If they are bringing food and you know they made it and didn’t buy it, you could ask them if it’s a family recipe. If it’s something that they discovered, you have a new family story in the making.  Do they have other family recipes that they’ve made or stories about cooking, especially around the holidays?  And sometimes you can get some really good stories about buying a staple for the holiday feast.

Do not make the mistake of only asking the older women about cooking and the men about World War II. Men cook too and women who lived through it have home front memories.  You may also be surprised to find that staid Aunt Sadie was in the military during wartime and stationed overseas.  Remember what I said about not assuming anything.

Be prepared to the inevitable dispute or two or three.  Take down the different forms of a story or identification as well as the names of those contributing each.  It’s good to have them all and some of the details may be able to be researched at a later date.

Another idea I had is to ask everyone to help you create a timeline of events that they remember and roughly when it occurred.  You might be surprised at how far back it goes.

Afterwards: Ideas to Consider

Set up a place online for family access to photographs or stories. Blogs, Facebook (with security filters), Flickr (especially albums), Pinterest, Instagram.  Always check a site’s security filters before you set one up or use one set up by another family member.

You could continue the discussion through emails, perhaps by mailing out a question to everyone who’s interested.  One question at a time should be sufficient.  Just make sure you have a file for them on your computer and you also print out a copy. If some people are really getting into this, they could adopt and research a husband and wife among your known ancestors.

If people give you feedback, do the same for them.  And always thank them, with a handwritten thank you note if possible.  Even the younger generations are impressed with that.  They may never have received one before.

You are building your family story – story by story.  In the short run, you may end up with an interesting, enjoyable family holiday. In the long run you may be building stronger bonds between family members and between generations that could last well into future generations.  It takes work to have fun. And think of the rewards.

4 December  2015/vea
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy

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New Free Library in the AutumnLet’s face it.  There are a lot of different resources out there that will help us track down elusive ancestors. It can be overwhelming.  It’s tricky enough dealing with American ancestors.  The problems multiply exponentially when you have to work your way back to one or more foreign countries. Over the years I have started putting together lists for patrons who need help, especially with foreign research. I create a list, store it, and add to it as I find more resources. If one person needs it, more will.

When I start a resource list, I pull together materials that I think will help a patron without overwhelming them.    I always build off books we have here in the library. I can often request a purchase for a book we don’t have it if it is still in print.  If not, I refer to holdings at other librarys. These books are usually within our (Minuteman) network, but not always.  I can usually find at least one “how to” book that covers a specific country. I then use articles and Internet sources as supplements.

Genealogy Books -- vertical picutreBut once in a great while I can not find one book that zeros in on a  specific country.  Two examples of this are Spain and France.   I have found no book entirely devoted to either country.  Hispanic and French Canadian research, yes.  But both involve research on this side of the Atlantic. I recently completed a list for Spain where I had to branch out beyond my usual resources.  I thought this would be a good opportunity to explain various types of resources and where to find them.  I’m hoping this will  help you with your own research.  You may even decide you want to make up a  list for yourself or to help someone else.

Remember, if you are doing a research list, it can be short or long. It can be exhaustive or cursory. You can cover several categories or just one type of item like books or blogs. You create it to meet your needs. I would never attempt to create a list that was exhaustive unless it was for a large number of people interested in various aspects of one topic. An  exhaustive list for just one person tends to be overwhelming and discouraging. It is fine to create a short list of particulars for yourself that also includes just general suggestions of where to go next. You could have a list of specific books that also includes “Check Cyndi’s List next” with a link.

DSC03522  Collecting Family HistoryIf you do decide to create a list for yourself, I have one word of warning. Once you start looking for website suggestions, you will be tempted to explore a particularly enticing blog or website.  Trust the voice of experience. (I make the mistakes first, then try to warn you away from doing the same thing.) It is best to finish up the areas you are trying to cover and then go back and explore.  Otherwise your list may never get finished and you will miss items that may be of more use to you than the one you are exploring.  You may want to delete the list of resources that do not work out for you.  If it’s a list just for my own use, I have started copying and pasting the not so useful items to the bottom of the list under a heading like “Not Useful.” That way I don’t waste my time by rediscovering the same websites over time.

O.K., so where’s the list of resources?   Here is your access if you want to see the list for Spain: RESOURCES FOR RESEARCHING SPANISH ANCESTORS.  You should be able to click on this and take a look.  If you know of any resources that I have missed, please let me know so that I can update my list.

Since this blog is already quite long, I have decided to make a separate blog entry for each type of resource you may want to use in your list. I’ve actually “cheated” a bit by finished all the postings and then adding each one in reverse order. All you have to do is read down.  It is the first time I’ve tried this.  Hope it helps.

vea/7 August 2014/updated with list on 26 August 2014
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy



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DSC03523 Files, Notes, Folders, and Books

Collecting Family History: Files, Folders, Notes, and Books

After you have decided where you are going to put your information, you start collecting the material you are going to put into your files.   The basics of genealogy are who, where, and when for births, marriages, and as you go back in time, deaths. But that’s only the skeleton of your family. You can include other information as well, such as family stories. You begin by writing down what you know about yourself and then your siblings.  Next you go back to your parents and their siblings, then to your grandparents,  as far back as you can remember.  If you remember it, write it down.  There are three forms that might help you figure out what you know and what you don’t.  These are provided with links so you can print out what your need.  There are forms for individuals. for family groups, and for direct line ancestors.  Take a look.  You should find them useful.

Have you discovered that you have a number of gaps?  Dates and places you don’t know?  Names that you can’t remember?  Your next step is to collect information from your relatives.  Ask questions of your parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents and their siblings if they are still alive.  If you are older, you can talk to cousins, nieces, and nephews.  Some may be younger, but they may still have family stories you never heard or photographs you have never seen.  Be prepared for all sorts of responses. You may encounter relatives who think you are wasting your time.  Others will be curious, though maybe a little skeptical.  And you may discover that there are others in your family with a genuine curiosity about their family history.  Some may have collected family stories and/or family photographs.  You may even find someone who is working on putting together a family tree or has in the past.

It is a good idea to take notes either during or as soon after talking to a relative as possible.  Always include your name, the name of the person you talked to, how you are related, the date and the place you talked.  Someday someone may pick up your research and they will need this information.  And twenty or thirty years down the line, your memory may need a gentle nudge as well.

Sometimes you may want to actually sit down and interview a relative.  You can take notes, but see if they are willing to be taped.  In future years it will be a gift to hear their voice.  Be prepared for “but I don’t have anything interesting to say.  I don’t remember all that much.  I haven’t done anything very interesting.”  Trust me.  In 99% of the cases they do, they will, and they have.  But what do you ask them?  How do you draw them out?  This does not come naturally to most people.  You might want to take a look at some of the books or websites I’ve listed below.  You can usually find them at your local library or through your library’s  Interlibrary Loan (ILL) service.  Even if you want to buy it, it’s a good idea to take a look at a book first.  Some books will work for you and others won’t. You may not save money.  But you’ll have a better working library.


Hart, Cynthia.  The Oral History Workshop: Collect and Celebrate the Life Stories of Your Family and FriendsNew York: Workman, 2009.  907.2 H25O   This work covers all the bases.  It helps you prepare for an oral interview, and makes suggestions about the things you do once the interview is over, including transcribing and editing it. The center, Chapter 3, is comprised of all sorts of questions you could ask.  (It helps to have those prepared in advance, in case you need all of them. A good interview is knowing when to just let your interviewee tell stories and when you need to guide the interview with questions.

Greene, Bob.  To Our Children’s Children: Preserving Family Histories for Generations to ComeNew York: Doubleday, 1993.  929.1 G83T   Need more questions? That is what this book is —  a list of questions sorted by category.

Ralph, LeAnn R. Preserve Your Family History: A Step-by-Step Guide for Interviewing Family Members and Writing Oral Histories.  Colfax, WI: LeAnn Ralph, 2007.  929.1 R13P

Catching Stories: A Practical Guide to Oral Historyby Donna M. DeBlasio et al.  Athens, OH: Swallow Press, 2009.  907.2 C28D


Creating Oral Histories from FamilySearch https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Creating_Oral_Histories

Family History Sample Outline and Questions from UCLA’s Center for Oral History Research  http://oralhistory.library.ucla.edu/familyHistory.html

Oral History Association  http://www.oralhistory.org Make sure you check out the section list at the top under the logo, especially the drop down menu under Resources.

Oral Interviews from The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress  http://www.loc.gov/folklife/familyfolklife/oralhistory.html

Oral History Primer from the University Library at the University of California, Santa Cruz  http://library.ucsc.edu/reg-hist/oral-history-primer

vea/4 April 2014
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy

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