Sunday, February 25, 2024

Book Review: Evidence Explained 4th Edition

Author Elizabeth Shown Mills has done a masterful job in revising Evidence Explained, 4th edition, because she's both streamlined and thoughtfully updated the content of this indispensable reference book.

Streamlined and robust

Since the first edition was published in 2007, this has been the gold standard for understanding and citing genealogical sources. 

Actually, it's the platinum standard because of the clear, robust explanations about the wide variety of resources we use to research and document our ancestry. Mills well goes beyond how to cite specific sources--she delves deep into source quality and what that means for the credibility of evidence and, ultimately, the credibility of our conclusions.

What's new?

Here's a look at the contents page:

Note the convenience of 14 citation templates!

Chapter 3 is new in this edition. Instead of printing dozens of sample templates for us to adapt in citing sources, Mills has simplified the examples into 14 templates that become the building blocks of citations. These templates range from basic book and website citation to citing books, magazines, newspapers, databases, authored manuscripts, and even gravestones viewed personally. Easier for readers to understand, easier for readers to implement. 

Mills knows how much information comes from online sources these days, and she carefully demonstrates how to cite such sources. In Chapter 13, p. 624 shows how to cite a video or webinar. In Chapter 15, p. 683 shows how to cite a blog, p. 689 shows how to cite a podcast, and p. 690 shows how to cite posts on social media such as Instagram. You'll even find a page on Generative AI (artificial intelligence) in Chapter 15.

Convenient QuickStart

Don't skip over the grey pages at the front of the book. First is "The Evidence Analysis Process Map," with sources (original or derivative records or authored narrative) that provide information (from an informant who has first-hand, second-hand or unknown level of knowledge) used as evidence for an analysis leading to the genealogical proof of our conclusion. 

Page 1 is a handy QuickStart guide to diving into Evidence Explained, followed by two pages summarizing the basics of source citations, at a glance.

For more about Elizabeth Shown Mills and Evidence Explained, plus tutorials and other bonus material, see her website.

DISCLOSURE: I received a free review copy of this book from, but the opinions in this review are entirely my own.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Another Twin Birthday!


Which twin, me or Sis, is standing on the bench (wearing an adorable bonnet) with our Mom in this Bronx playground? 

Who knows?! 

In the photo below, we're lounging in our double baby buggy, waiting to be wheeled through the park and into the playground. 

Celebrating another trip around the sun with my Sis.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Bequeath the Story with the Heirloom!


What do you see--maybe an ashtray? Actually, this is an heirloom, and it comes with a story.

My late father-in-law, Edgar James Wood (1903-1986) was a cracker-jack piano player who was proud to be a long-time member of the Hermit Club in Cleveland. Whereas most members had to apply and hope they were accepted, he said (in an oral history interview) he was recruited to join when the former piano player retired.

This was during the the early 1930s, when Ed was dating his future wife (Marian McClure, 1909-1983). Some of the Hermit Club members were also involved in "The Troop," more formally known as the First Cleveland Cavalry, later Troop A, 107th Cavalry, of the Ohio National Guard. 

So Ed joined, too--even though he had never, to that time, ever been on a horse. The Troop assumed its members had no riding experience and geared their training to beginners. Still, Ed and his girlfriend Marian went to a nearby riding academy now and then to get exercise and experience. Ed's Troop commitment lasted about three years, and by that time, Ed and Marian were married and had started a family.

Over the years, Ed remained interested in the Troop, and when it celebrated its 75th Anniversary in 1952, he purchased this commemorative ashtray, which was used only for loose coins. 

From a family history perspective, this is an heirloom with a backstory about a man who was most at home in the city, not on a horse! Without the story, it would be just an ashtray. 

Heirloom is the genealogy prompt for this week's #52Ancestors challenge by Amy Johnson Crow. 

Monday, February 19, 2024

Happy Presidents' Day 2024


In the days when President Lincoln and President Washington were honored with separate Federal holidays on their birthdays, my husband's uncle in Cleveland received these colorful penny postcards from his aunt and uncle in Chicago.

Both of these postcards were sent more than a century ago, part of the Wood family's ongoing plan to stay in touch even when they lived hours away from each other. 

Presidential birthdays were two of many occasions for aunts and uncles to write a line or two to young nieces and nephews!

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Happy Valentine's Day 1912

My husband's young uncle in Cleveland, Ohio received this delightful penny postal greeting one hundred twelve years ago today. 

It was sent by Rachel Ellen Wood Lewis Kirby(1864-1954), who lived in Chicago.

Nellie signed it "from Aunt Nellie and Uncle Arthur." Actually, her husband was Samuel Arthur Kirby (1860-1939), a barber. Second marriage for both: Nellie had been widowed, Arthur was divorced.

By 1912, the date of this Valentine, Nellie had one child living, a son who sadly died at age 26 exactly three years after his mother sent this card to her nephew. 

Nellie had a great fondness for all her younger relatives and stayed in touch by letter, post card, and visits. Happily, many of her postcards remain in the Wood family today.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Me: 4 Immigrant Grands - Hubby: 1 Immigrant Grand

All four of my grandparents were immigrants from Eastern Europe:

  • Hermina Farkas - b. Berehove, Hungary - arrived with siblings at Ellis Island, as a teenager, joining her parents who had arrived earlier
  • Theodore Schwartz - b. Ungvar, Hungary - arrived at Ellis Island alone, as a teenager
  • Henrietta Mahler - b. Riga, Latvia - arrived at Castle Garden with family, as a teenager
  • Isaac Burk - b. Gargzdai, Lithuania - sailed alone to Canada, later crossed to NY state, in his early 20s
Only one of hubby's grandparents was an immigrant:

  • Mary Slatter - b. Whitechapel, London, England - sailed to Canada alone before crossing into the US, in her mid-20s
Currently, I'm preparing a family history photo book about Mary Slatter and her husband, James Edgar Wood, my hubby's paternal grandparents. Their family backgrounds could not have been more different. Where James's Wood family in America descended from Mayflower passengers and seagoing British ancestors, Mary's Slatter family in England barely survived grinding poverty--and her mother died in a notorious insane asylum. My book will reflect the ups and downs of their lives, the happy times as well as the periods of despair.

It's a privilege to chronicle the perseverance and spirit of these immigrant ancestors, who left their home lands to start a new life in a new country. Without them, and those who came before, we wouldn't be here today.

"Immigration" is the genealogy prompt for week 7 of Amy Johnson Crow's #52Ancestors challenge.

Friday, February 9, 2024

Donating the Hermit Club Book

My late father-in-law, Edgar James Wood (1903-1986) was a long-time member of the Hermit Club in Cleveland, Ohio, a cultural center for music. 

As a young man with a flair for playing the piano, Ed aspired to be a member of this well-known and rather exclusive club, which regularly sponsored musical plays and concerts.

In fact, he had his first date with his future wife at an informal musical evening hosted by a Hermit Club member. He discussed that date in an oral history recording made decades ago, and the member's name is shown in this book.

The Hermit Club's history was written by William H. Thomas, and Ed's copy was inscribed with a dedication by the author (see below).

Now our family is going to donate this specially-inscribed book to give it a safe home in a repository that collects artifacts about Cleveland. Not only will the book be part of the archival collection, so will Ed's connection to the Hermit Club and how it led to romance with Marian Jane McClure (1909-1983).

If you have items in your family history collection that relatives don't want, I urge you to make arrangements to keep them safe before you join your ancestors! For more detail on how and why to donate items, please see my book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past.

Monday, February 5, 2024

Comparing Bite-Sized Family History Photo Books

Above, two of the bite-sized (6 inch by 6 inch) photo books I made to focus on very specific aspects of family history. I'm quite happy with both of them! Quality is good, color reproduction very nice, lots of customizable options for covers and interior layouts. One is from Shutterfly, which I've used for years, and one is from Mixbook, my first try. 

These bite-sized photo books have been a hit with the younger generation, so I'm sure I'll make more later in the year. One recipient appreciated the pocket-sized book because it was "adorable and informative." Win! 


At left, the Shutterfly photo book about the WWII military ancestors in my Schwartz and Burk family trees. The six inch square size is measured on the outside covers, from spine to tip. Inside, the pages are 5 5/8 inches wide and tall. This is called an "instant book" on Shutterfly, with 20 pages included in the price of $23.98 with standard hard cover (today's price). Promotions are frequent, so wait for a discount! Professional and long-lasting, I crammed a lot of photos and a bit of text into one little book, and my audience was both pleased and fascinated, rereading and asking questions!

I love Shutterfly's nearly infinite options for customizing every aspect of a photo book, including lots of embellishments like frames for photos and fancy wording like "family." The pages are slightly thicker and have a slight sheen, very easy to read at a glance. It takes time to learn Shutterfly's customizing features, but the results are well worth the learning curve, whether you're making a photo book or some other project (family calendar, etc.). 


At right, the Mixbook photo book about the Mayflower ancestors in my husband's Wood family tree. The outside size is 6 1/4 by 6 1/4 measured from spine to tip of cover. Inside, the pages are 6 inches high and nearly 6 inches wide. This is a "blank canvas" square book, with 21 pages included in the price of $26.18 with standard hard cover (today's price). Definitely watch for a discount! I didn't cram too much into this book, because I was only writing about 5 Mayflower ancestors plus some historical context and naming famous descendants of these ancestors, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Very attractive, a quick read and a mini-reference for the younger generation.

Mixbook has somewhat fewer options but also different options, including the ability to quickly and conveniently line up text or photos at top across two-page spreads. It took me less time to learn Mixbook's more intuitive customizing features because of my prior experience with Shutterfly, so the book came together fairly quickly. The pages are slightly thinner and glossier, adding to the polished look. NOTE: Be aware that if you change a Mixbook project within 30 min of ordering, that change will be in your book! 

My preferences

I'm going to go with Mixbook in the future when I make more of these small square books, because its book has a definite size edge over Shutterfly. 

On the other hand, I'm going to stay with Shutterfly for my longer family history books, because I know its customizable features so well.

Which is right for you?

Both are excellent choices for any photo book project, not just a family history project. Both have apps if you prefer to work that way--I use my desktop Mac so I can see every detail without squinting. Really, I like both Mixbook and Shutterfly for photo-heavy family history.

If you've never made a photo book before, I think Mixbook seems a little easier to pick up on your own, with awesome opportunities to customize your project. If you want nearly endless possibilities for colors of page backgrounds, covers, fonts, embellishments, I suggest you consider Shutterfly. Remember that extras cost extra on either site.

Let me encourage you to check out both sites on your own, note the prices of different sizes/types of photo books, and try a book about a favorite ancestor or some other particular element of your family tree--military ancestors, musical ancestors, a black sheep, an extra-special grandma. 

No matter which site you choose, I think you'll be impressed with the quality of the photo book. Just remember to wait for a sale or coupon before you press the "buy" button ;)

Saturday, February 3, 2024

RootsTech Begins on Leap Day

RootsTech kicks off on Leap Day!

Although I won't be at RootsTech in person, I'll be watching presentations from home (maybe in my bunny slippers). So much great online content at no cost!

If you haven't already registered for free, you can do so here.

Then read through the jam-packed listing of events and save sessions to your personal schedule. Above, some of the excellent sessions I'll be attending from home.

I expect to watch some of these sessions live, and the others after RootsTech is over. Maybe I'll watch a few (like DNA sessions) a second time to brush up on specifics. So I'll see you #NotAtRootsTech but on social media, posting about favorite sessions/speakers/handouts. If you're going to be at RootsTech in SLC, I'm looking forward to seeing your photos and posts!

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Newspaper Research Adds Nuance to Family History

As I prepare a new family history photo book about my husband's paternal line, I'm freshening up my research to uncover any new info. 

The last time I wrote a booklet about the family trees of James Edgar Wood (1871-1939) and Mary Slatter Wood (1869-1925) was five years ago. Lots of genealogical content has been digitized since then, especially newspapers being added to databases.

Sure enough, I discovered there's a little more to the story of Mary's Slatter family. I already knew that her sister, Adelaide Mary Ann Slatter (1868-1947), married James Sills Baker on Aug. 23, 1896 in Cleveland, Ohio, as shown in marriage record at top. What I didn't know was exactly where and who was present.

When I searched GenealogyBank for news coverage of Adelaide, I discovered two social items that mentioned Adelaide's father (hubby's great-grandfather) John Slatter (1838-1901). The items are quite similar, so I'll quote from the Cleveland Leader, Aug. 25, 1896, p. 4:

On Thursday evening, a score or more of invited guests assembled at the home of Mr. John Slatter, 433 St. Clair Street, to witness the marriage of his youngest daughter, Miss Adelaide M. Slatter, to Mr. John Sills Baker of Toledo. Mr. Thomas Lees officiated in tying the legal knot. Hearty congratulations were extended to Mr. & Mrs. Baker by their many friends. Supper was served, and the remainder of the evening was devoted to music and a social time. Many choice flowers and presents adorned the parlors. The young couple leave for Toledo, their future home, Saturday morning.

Well, the father hosted the wedding ceremony and supper for his daughter! John had been widowed for the second time the previous year, and worked as a paper hanger. My impression was that his financial situation was rather tenuous. Perhaps the married couple actually paid for their own wedding supper but the father offered his home for the ceremony? I'll never know for sure, of course.

But I'll hold onto the image of a father happily watching his daughter get married. And of course this nuance about great-grandpa John Slatter will be in the new photo book. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Great Aunt Jennie, Gentle Influencer

I absolutely love the in-laws on both sides of my family tree. Today I want to focus on the loving, generous woman who married into my grandmother's Farkas family and became a gentle influencer through the decades.

Jennie [sometimes Jenny] Katz (1886-1974) was born on this day 138 years ago in Malomfalva, Romania. She came to New York in her 20s, and met my great uncle Alexander Farkas (1885-1948) through their involvement in the Kossuth Ferencz Hungarian Literary Sick and Benevolent Society. Alex was one of the founders of this nonprofit group that provided medical assistance, literacy assistance, and burial assistance to Hungarian immigrants in the Big Apple. 

Jennie and Alex married on Christmas Eve in 1916, both 30 years old, with family from both sides attending the wedding. He was in the garment business, she was a talented dressmaker able to copy any style after seeing it in a magazine, no pattern needed. Although the couple had no children together, they were very devoted to family. In fact, it was gentle Jennie who made the suggestion that was a game-changer for her husband's entire family.

It was Jennie's idea to start a family circle that would meet regularly, not just on holidays but all year round. The "charter members" were her husband Alex and his 10 siblings, with their spouses (if any). This family circle evolved into the Farkas Family Tree, a major focal point of social activities starting in 1933 and stretching for the next three decades. The children of charter members became full-fledged members of the tree at the age of 16, even grandchildren ultimately became members, and all enjoyed the camaraderie and food at meetings, year after year, thanks to Jennie's suggestion. 

In 1959, when one of Jennie's nephews was the family tree's historian, he wrote this moving tribute to her:

I would like to dedicate this, my first Farkas Family Tree report, to one of our most ardent members. In her own quiet way, she was probably more responsible than any other in the birth of the Farkas Family Tree. Since the inception of the Tree, I would venture to say that she has been about the most ardent supporter of our organization, and just about the most regular attender of meetings. With great respect and much love, I dedicate this report to Jenny Farkas--AUNT JENNY.

At top is a photo of one pillar at the entrance to the Kossuth Association's burial plot at Mt. Hebron Cemetery in New York, showing Jennie's name. She had been instrumental in making sure immigrants served by the Kossuth Association had affordable burial arrangements, and in planning the entrance gates to the plot. Jennie, her husband Alex, and many in the Farkas Family Tree were buried in this plot.

On this anniversary of Jennie's birth, I want to honor her gentle, loving influence on my Farkas ancestors and keep her memory alive for the future. 

"Influencer" is this week's #52Ancestors genealogy prompt from Amy Johnson Crow.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Connecting Family History with History

Yesterday, I pushed the button to order one copy of my latest bite-sized family history project. It's a 6" x 6" photo book about my husband's ancestral connections to five Mayflower passengers. 

Not expensive, not an in-depth project, just a brief take on an important movement in history that had a major impact on Wood family history. I'm forever grateful to a 2c1r who did a deep-dive to follow the Wood lineage back to these Mayflower ancestors.

Before I order multiple copies of the book, I want to be sure it looks the way I envisioned it. Once I have the actual book in my hands, I can examine it carefully, decide on any edits, and then order another single copy to check how the second version looks. Ordering with discount codes, of course ;)

At top, the front cover and spine of my book, the first I've made with For the covers, I selected a glossy background with a look of linen texture. Inside pages are light tan background with brown title text and black body text, blue for captions. I found it easy to align headlines and body text on facing pages. Also I learned how to shift pages or photos or spreads when rearranging the order of some content. There are more features to learn, but this was a fun intro to a site I've never used but heard good things about. 

In addition to bite-sized bios of Isaac Allerton, Mary Norris Allerton, Mary Allerton, Francis Cooke, and Degory Priest, I wrote about the social and historical context of the Mayflower voyage. Above, the two-page spread I created to briefly explain the Mayflower Compact, written and signed in November, 1620 as the ship was anchored off present-day Cape Cod. I added the inkwell for visual interest, and used a shadow effect to set off the atmospheric image of the handwritten Compact (not an original, but a later copy).

My book notes that the Compact was signed by three of the five Mayflower passengers in the Wood family tree. (The other two were female and not eligible to sign.) Every schoolchild in America is taught about the Mayflower Compact--now my grandchildren will be able to feel a more personal family-history link to this pivotal event in history. Just as important, this part of family history is less likely to be forgotten in the future.

I can't wait to turn the pages of my book, in about two weeks!

Thursday, January 18, 2024

WikiTree Connect-a-Thon This Weekend

For 72 hours, from Friday at 8 am Eastern US time to Monday at 8 am Eastern US time, WikiTree is holding a worldwide virtual Connect-a-Thon. 

This is an opportunity to "add missing relatives" to the giant, searchable, free family tree on WikiTree.

It's a fun "thon" because we can register to part of teams competing to add the most new profiles to the tree. I'm registered as part of Team L'Chaim, adding both Jewish and non-Jewish ancestor profiles from my line and my husband's line. 

I enjoy the sense of community throughout the weekend, and the opportunity to focus on adding profiles with bite-sized bios to commemorate those who came before. 

I'm also categorizing my ancestors to highlight specific aspects of their lives, such as "48th Highlanders of Canada" for my hubby's renowned bandmaster ancestor, Capt. John Daniel Slatter (1864-1954). If someone is searching for a member of that distinguished Toronto regiment, the category page here shows other profiles already on WikiTree. Ready to connect!

Monday, January 15, 2024

Dr. Martin Luther King at Columbia University, 1961

My hubby was the editor of the Columbia Owl campus newspaper while an undergraduate student at the School of General Studies of Columbia University in Manhattan. 

In 1961, the Owl invited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak on the topic of voter registration and civil rights. Several hundred students from area colleges filled the theater to hear Dr. King. The event raised thousands of dollars for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization devoted to advocating for civil rights. 

Above, my hubby (in dark beard and dark tie) standing next to Dr. King before his inspiring talk. This is one of our family's favorite photos, capturing a special memory as the country celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King Day.

"Favorite photo" is Amy Johnson Crow's #52Ancestors prompt for this week. 

Friday, January 12, 2024

Book Review: "The Last Ships from Hamburg"

Written by historian Steven Ujifusa, The Last Ships from Hamburg traces the rise and fall of Hamburg as a port of hope, profit, and humanity, a jumping-off place for Jewish people and other immigrants seeking to make a new life in America. 

The main focus: the lives and business decisions of wealthy Jewish men in Germany and America who shaped the steamship industry into a well-oiled machine of immigration through East Coast ports of the United States, and beyond. With big money involved, even titans of industry who disliked Jewish execs were willing to do business with them, up to a point.

The narrative is lively and moves along at a good clip, drawing readers in by revealing fascinating personal/professional details about the powerful families that paved the way for immigrants to get out of Russia. It also puts a human face on those fleeing the Russian empire, tracing their difficult journeys to Hamburg, agonizing waits to board ships, even more agonizing waits at Ellis Island. Ujifusa also discusses the reality of American life for many new arrivals, crowded into tenements in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, barely scratching out a living with pushcarts or hunched over sewing in sweat shops. 

Ballin, Schiff, Morgan

The Hamburg-American Line's managing director and visionary leader was Hamburg-born Albert Ballin, a Jewish man who cultivated ties with Kaiser Wilhelm and other bigwigs of Germany, England, and the United States. In building up the Hamburg-America Line, he created a transportation network that brought immigrants (including Russian and Eastern European Jews) to Hamburg, screened them for health problems that might cause them to be rejected at Ellis Island, even offered kosher meals on his steamships. In fact, ticket sales to immigrants were absolutely essential to the financial stability of the Hamburg-America Line. 

Jacob Schiff was the Frankfurt-born managing partner of Kuhn, Loeb & Co, an influential US investment bank that advised powerhouse transportation firms like the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Union Pacific. In addition to being a major Jewish philanthropist, Schiff fought against the anti-immigration movement that gripped America even as persecution and pogroms threatened the lives of Jews in Russia leading up to WWI.

J.P. Morgan helped bail out the US government when it was under pressure because of dwindling gold reserves in 1895. He was a master of combining companies into giant trusts that competed on a massive scale. Although his businesses had to coexist with Jewish-managed company competitors, he disliked Jews. Yet his International Mercantile Marine shipping trust, a major player in the shipping and transportation industry, ultimately forged a deal with Albert Ballin's Hamburg-America line, to the benefit of both firms.

Crossing to safety

The book also tells the nail-biting story of hundreds of thousands of Jewish families who sailed to America from 1881-1914. Often these folks couldn't legally leave Russia, so Hamburg-America facilitated border crossings. In effect, two steamship lines were allowed to privatize the Russia-Prussia border station. They allowed immigrants with tickets for America to pass through, then moving to inspection stations for screening and fumigation. These immigrants were ultimately able to cross the pond, cheering at the Statue of Liberty as they entered New York Harbor to start over. Among the prominent descendants of Jewish immigrants are Lauren Bacall, Fanny Brice, David Sarnoff, Sam Goldwyn, and many more, including the author's great-grandparents.  

My ancestors were among the many who left Eastern Europe and crossed the Atlantic to safety before World War I. The book cites 1907 as the peak year for European immigration to America, with more than a million newcomers passing through Ellis Island. However, as the final chapters chronicle, anti-immigration sentiment among powerful US legislators and the social elite increased the pressure to slam shut the door to new arrivals. By 1923, Congress had passed new laws that made it all but impossible for immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe to make it to America. 

Ups and Downs of the Hamburg-America Line

Because I have ancestors who boarded Hamburg-American ships in Hamburg or Cuxhaven, I was particularly interested in the mechanics of getting immigrants from one place to another. The author explains that Russia, in particular, didn't make it easy for anyone to leave...officially. But the Hamburg-America line had agents who could help immigrants with steamship tickets to cross borders, get to ports via railroad or other transportation, and find them decent shelter until their ships departed. 

My ancestor, Bela Roth (1860-1941), brother-in-law to my great-grandmother, left Hungary for New York City twice on ships of the Hamburg-American line. In 1907, he and his family sailed from Hamburg to New York aboard the fairly luxurious Kaiserin Auguste Victoria, a Hamburg-America ship originally launched in 1889 with great fanfare, as this book describes. 

Also in the book is the story of the Hamburg-America's SS Vaterland, which made its maiden voyage from Cuxhaven to America in May of 1914. My Bela Roth, a merchant, sailed with his family on the same Vaterland from Cuxhaven to New York in July of 1914. This time, he remained in New York, declaring his intention to apply for citizenship in 1917. 

The Vaterland was a sleek, speedy ship that, on August 1, 1914, happened to be docked at Hoboken, New Jersey when Germany and Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia in the aftermath of the murder of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg.

With the onset of war, thousands of immigrants were stranded in German ports, holding tickets for America. The author describes the desperation of the steamship lines, trying to stay financially solvent, and the scrambling of Jacob Schiff and others trying to get Jewish people out of the Russian Empire without the convenience of the usual German ports. It was the end of an era in so many ways.

If you have immigrant ancestors who sailed to America during the period of 1881-1914, especially if they were leaving from Russia or Eastern Europe and arriving on the East Coast, I heartily recommend picking up this book. See Publishers Weekly write-up here.