Showing posts with label Show all posts
Showing posts with label Show all posts

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Playing Tag with My Ancestors

When I first saw Ancestry's TreeTags, I was intrigued by the categories. The idea is to indicate the research status of each ancestor.

Tag, You're It!

I like "unverified" and "hypothesis" because they are a great way to tag ancestors who I've either found on some document and been unable to verify further, or ancestors who I suspect (but can't yet prove) are related in a certain way to my tree. Extremely useful.

"Actively researching" and "brick wall" seem less useful tags for my purposes. "Verified" is, however, highly useful for situations where I've got clear, solid evidence for these ancestors and can verify how they are actually related to my family. 

What Does Complete Mean?

But after 21 years of active research, the word "complete" is not in my #genealogy vocabulary and I doubt I'll ever tag any ancestor in this way.

Ancestry defines "complete" as: "I am confident that I have executed thorough searches to help answer my questions."

As thorough as my research may be, new records become available all the time. And that's not all. DNA is also changing the research landscape.

So although I may have answered my current questions, and may even have amassed a huge amount of data through research, I don't view any ancestor as completely researched.

New Records Galore

Just this month, for instance, Family Search posted a database of 34 million U.S. obituaries from GenealogyBank, 1980-2014. Woo-hoo! I'm searching for the names of cousins, aunts, and uncles who died in the past 40 years. Maybe an obit will reveal a previously unknown spouse or challenge my knowledge of that person's life in some other way.

Family Search also posted databases of Cook County, Illinois births-marriages-deaths from the 1870s into the 20th century, as late as 1994 for the deaths. Another woo-hoo, as I search for ancestors who lived or died in Chicago. Found two already.

I may stop researching some ancestors for a while, focusing on others who I know less about or certain ancestors I have a special interest in, but I can't imagine tagging any ancestor (even my parents) as "complete."

What about you?

PS: To see the very latest collections on Family Search, go to the collections page here and sort by "last updated" (on the far right). 

Monday, January 21, 2019

Clicking, Not Cranking, to Read Unindexed Records

Temperature this morning was minus 3. On a day like this, I'm feeling grateful not to have to leave the house to crank through microfilm as I search through unindexed records.

Happily, the records I'm searching are a click away on Not long ago, I attended a talk about researching in Hungary, where my maternal grandparents were from. The speaker reminded us that we can click through unindexed census records on FamilySearch at our leisure.

Tips from the Family Search Wiki

The FamilySearch wiki pages about Hungary provide a handy key to help researchers interpret what each census column is about (see above). Now I can spot where the family name would be listed, the columns for age, place of birth, and so on. This helps me speed-click through the 600-odd unindexed pages.

At top, the first page in this series that I'm searching, looking for the Schwartz family in Ungvar, in Ung county. Notice that in the page at top, the very first family (not in Ungvar) is Schwartz. I expect to see a lot of Schwartz entries scattered in Hungary. The real trick is to click and locate MY Schwartz family.

One of the good things coming out of this page-by-page search is more familiarity with surnames and given names of that time and place. And I'm getting better at reading different handwritings from that time and place.

In Search of Great-Grandpa Herman Schwartz

A-clicking I will go, in search of my great-grandpa's family, the parents of Herman Schwartz. Herman should be in the census as a child, although his name may be different, perhaps Hershel or Hirsch instead of Herman. It takes a lot more time to look through one page at a time, but it will be worth it if Herman and his family are there. And it's clicking, not cranking, already easier than it would have been just a few years ago.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Learning at the New York State Family History Conference

Wow, it was a wonderful conference experience yesterday at the New York State Family History Conference, held for the first time in Tarrytown, New York.

Not only did I get to see friends from multiple genealogy clubs and societies around the Northeast, I had the opportunity to learn from some of the best genealogy experts in the business.

My first session of the day was Cherie Bush's New York Records and Resources at

Cherie demonstrated some of FamilySearch's most valuable features and highlighted several record sets that researchers should check for New York-area ancestors. (One record set that appeared in her list was something I need to investigate: Bronx Probate, 1914-1931.)

She also reminded us of smart ways to use the FamilySearch site, especially the super-valuable wiki. Here is her slide about which record sets to check first when researching birth, death, maiden name, and parents. (Cherie invited the audience to photograph any and all slides. Thank you!)
Next, Diahan Southard and David Nicholson presented The Science of Genetic Genealogy. Blaine Bettinger was in the audience, having just finished his session, "Shared Matches and Genetic Networks."

My top takeaway: The software used for matching people is getting much, much more sophisticated. Living DNA is planning to offer matching that will not just show where we are from and who we match, but also how each match relates to us. In essence, the software would automate the match-analysis process that Blaine Bettinger described in his talk. Sounds promising!
After lunch, I snagged a seat in Thomas Jones's session, Genealogical Documentation: The What, Why, Where, and How. He reviewed, in detail, how to develop citations for sources we use in our genealogy research, saying: "Undocumented genealogy is useless because it can't be checked."

Many of us inherited handwritten family trees with no sources, leading to months or years of research for verification. If we properly cite our sources, those who come after us will be able to retrace our steps and also evaluate the quality of the sources we used. The idea is to allow later researchers to build on our work, rather than having to go back and check it over.

Mid-afternoon, a fun highlight was joining other Virtual Genealogical Association members for a group photo outside the exhibit hall. It was a pleasure to meet them in person--many for the first time!
My final session of the day was Judith Herbert's Ancestors of Meager Means and Even Less Fame in 19th Century NYC. She provided an in-depth explanation of why and how to conduct a surname study, with the case study of an ancestor. Very time-consuming, detailed research and analysis technique that can't be used if the name is Smith or Jones (or, as in my husband's case, Wood) because of the unwieldy number of people who would have to be evaluated.

The entire audience laughed when Judith showed a death cert where the spaces for names of father and mother had a dash. Helpful, Judith noted, only if your ancestor's given name was "dash."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Tuesday's Tip: Local Genealogy via Long Distance

In my recent presentation to the Genealogy Club of Newtown, I highlighted ways to do local genealogy research from far away. The key is to think local--about where documents might be stored or who might know something about your ancestors and their lives.

NOTE that you may not find the actual documents with a click, but you just might connect with a person who can help you put your hands on the documents.

Here are five ideas for finding local genealogy resources and links without leaving your keyboard:
  1. Use the Family Search wiki to locate local genealogy resources by country/state/county. This link leads to research and info about family history research in localities around the United States, for example. I can't say enough good things about this comprehensive source of info and links, organized by location.
  2. Linkpendium is nothing but millions of links to pages organized by country (mainly the US) and state. The site also has links to surname pages worldwide. Often the locality links take you to official government sites (for vital records, as an example) or to unofficial sites loaded with volunteer-provided genealogy info. Unofficial sites can be excellent sources of details not available in the official records, so go ahead and click to see what you can find. Worth a look!
  3. Message boards that relate to specific countries, states or regions, counties, and cities are tremendously valuable. Don't just search for your name, also post if you have a specific question. The photo shows a message I posted several years ago, and within days, the wonderful historian in Wabash responded with clues about where to find the obituaries of Benjamin and Sarah McClure. That broke down a long-standing brick wall, all because I posted on a local message board. Try it on Rootsweb, Ancestry, GenForum, and other sites.
  4. Genealogy/historical clubs and societies have documents and books that may mention your ancestors. Some will even, for a small fee, go out and photograph local graves for you. Well worth it, and you'll often learn some details that aren't in the official records. Try doing an online search for "genealogical society" or "historical society" and the name of the county where ancestors lived. (Tip: Be sure to click on the correct state!) The Genealogical Club of Newtown CT, for instance, has several databases that substitute for the missing 1890 Census. What will you find in a local club's records elsewhere?
  5. Local historians know a lot about their towns or counties and can answer questions, sometimes by e-mail, sometimes by phone. Do an online search for "historian" and the name of the town or county. One historian kindly sent me three pages of surname info that another researcher had submitted to her--along with the researcher's name and e-mail for me to follow up. I left this historian my contact info just in case someone else comes looking for the same surname. Ask nicely, be polite, and respect the historian's time.
Remember, double-check and verify anything you find online. Unverified information is just gossip, not gospel.

Good luck and happy ancestor hunting!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tuesday's Tip: Searching Online Libraries

Yes, it's a long shot, but sometimes our ancestors are mentioned in books, especially books outlining specific family trees. So I've been taking a few minutes to plug surnames into the search boxes of online libraries--not just Heritage Quest--and see what I can find, with some success.

To avoid getting too many hits, I use the search phrase "surname AND genealogy" in this initial step to narrow things down, using whatever surname I'm researching at the time.

Next, I look at the listing of digitized books, select one or two that seem most promising, and search within the books for the surname.

Here are three online libraries to explore:

  • HathiTrust Digital Library allows searching across its catalog and within individual books. Plugging in McClure, I found this page about the Halbert McClure family from Donegal to Botetourt, VA in a genealogy that covered not just McClure but also Haddon and Curry families. 
  •'s "Free Books" section has a search box at the top left where I plugged in "McClure AND genealogy" and found 8 possible hits to explore. The most promising hit is A History of Rockbridge County, where Halbert McClure settled.
  • Family Search's Family History Books will search across 80,000 books in family history libraries around the country. The search can be general or advanced. Searching simply for "McClure" turned up more than 4,000 entries! I switched to advanced search, added "Halbert" as a second search word, and got only 100 results. Not all of these books can be accessed digitally, however. The one I viewed was McClure Family Records.
Happy searching!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Insider's Look at Genealogy

The Ancestry Insider

The unofficial, unauthorized view of the two big genealogy websites: and .
The Insider reports on, defends, and constructively criticizes these two and associated topics. The
author attempts to fairly and evenly support both. (more...)

Database review: Historic Land Ownership Atlases

NFS rollout update for 26-Aug-2008

Maps online from the New York Public Library

Notice: The Ancestry Insider is independent of and The opinions expressed herein are his own. Trademarks used herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners. The Ancestry Insider is solely responsible for any silly, comical, or satirical trademark parodies presented as such herein. The name Ancestry Insider designates the author's status as an insider among those searching their ancestry and does not refer to All content is copyrighted unless designated otherwise.

blog it
Independent but expert, this featured blog takes us inside the latest developments at and (and other genealogy sites). Valuable tips and loads of links--as you can see from these recent post titles. It's now on my (lengthy) bookmark list of must-visit genealogy sites and blogs.

Because my Eastern European relatives lived in towns that belonged to different nations at different times, links on this blog to historical maps are helpful in figuring out where to continue searching. My maternal grandfather came from a town that was once in Hungary, later considered part of Czechoslovakia, and today is in Ukraine. Can't wait to find out about the towns in Latvia etc. where my paternal ancestors originally lived.