What kind of grandfather drags his grandchildren to multiple cemeteries and calls it fun? What kind of family historian allows the fear of a little traffic congestion keep him from a genealogical gold mine? What kind of person never stops interviewing his aged mother and gets rewarded with a story he’s never heard? That would be me, guilty on all counts and hoping you benefit from my experiences.
Let’s answer that second question. Continue reading “A Genealogy Gold Mine in North Texas”
Here’s the situation. You’re researching multiple family lines. You have an opportunity to visit an excellent genealogical library or research facility miles or even days away from where you live. You’ll have limited time, a day or two, to be in the facility. How do you maximize your time and carry home the most amount of information? Try what I call power researching.
Here’s what you need:
- A small camera or phone camera with plenty of photo file storage capability and/or scanning capability. It must be able to capture excellent images without a flash and have a removable battery that can be easily changed. I use a Cannon Power Shot A4000 IS. You’ll waste valuable time if you have to stop to charge your phone or tablet.
- Photo software with editing capability on your computer, laptop or tablet.
- An extra battery for your photo/scanning device
- A charger to recharge your spent battery while you continue to work with your fresh battery.
- You may want to use a tripod or other device for you photo work. They just slow me down.
- Pen and paper
- A flash drive.
- The research guide you’ve prepared. (Explained below)
Here’s what you do before you go:
- Prepare a simple research guide. What surnames are you researching, in which locations and for what date ranges. Know the counties’ histories and boundary changes and remember, your ancestors often registered documents in adjacent counties because it was more convenient. For example, my Horn or Horne relatives arrived in what I believe is current day Wilson County, Tennessee sometime after 1791 (Wilson county did not exist in 1791) and had, to my knowledge, moved on by about 1836. I would need to research no fewer than seven counties: Sumner, Davidson, Wilson, Smith, Rutherford, Warren and Cannon for those early date ranges! So I would write down the main target surnames, their known allied surnames, the county names in which I may find a record of their presence and the date range I may expect to find them there. Don’t forget alternate spellings.
- Go online and search the target library or research center’s catalog. Prioritize the order of your search by the roadblock you are trying to remove or most coveted surnames. Put in the search query. For example, I would put in Wilson County, Tennessee and look for deed books, will books, histories, tax lists, etc. all in the appropriate date range. I would copy and paste the catalog information, especially the call numbers, into a document in my word processor. I would then repeat the process for each potential county. Remember to prioritize. You’re preparing the guide you will use when you visit the facility. You need your list to be progressing from most important in your research to least. Only you can determine this order. If I’m visiting a good facility for the first time, it’s not unusual for me to have eight to ten pages in my guide.
- Print out the guide you’ve built. Then write the appropriate surnames beside each document title on your list. This will be critical in getting the most out of your time.
- Charge your camera battery and your spare battery. Have an extra data storage disk. Pack your charger! When you change a battery out, put the used one in the charger.
- Make certain you know the location and times the facility will be open. Don’t trust the times you find on a website! Call the week before you go and confirm with a person their times and policies concerning non-flash photography (By the way, if your camera has a “silent” mode, please use it.)
- Take a flash drive with you. (sometimes called a thumb drive or memory stick). If you find data on a facility computer/microfilm reader, you may be able to simple plug in your flash drive and download the information to take home with you. This saves you the time and expense of copying.
- Plan your meals. I usually pack a lunch (or dinner depending on the hours the facility is open). I want to control and limit my time away from gathering “gold”.
Here’s what you do when you arrive:
- Be at the facility when it opens.
- Proceed through any check-in process necessary for the facility, get oriented, select a research table nearest your work and head to the stacks with the research guide you prepared.
- Find and collect the first five or six books and/or documents from the top of your list and return to your table.
- On a sheet of paper, you brought with you, write down the title and author of the first book. Under this write the surnames appropriate to this book down the left side of your paper allowing room between each surname and alternate spelling. I try to do this in alphabetical order to hasten the later process.
- Search the index of the first book. (If your document does not have an index, you’ll need to determine if you should take the time to research it the “old fashioned way”, photo or copy the entire document now or take time to search it or copy it later in the day.) Now, use the names you wrote on your paper. These will be your family surnames and allied families from the appropriate county and times. Beside each name found in the index, write the page numbers where these names appear in the book. You are preparing your “photo guide”. Do this for each name on your paper for this specific book.
- Begin photographing. I do it in this sequence. Photograph the outside cover of the book, then the title and copyright pages. If you like, photograph the forward or introduction. Photograph any explanations of abbreviations, etc. which may later assist you. Photograph the hand written page you have just prepared. Now, begin photographing each page number beside the names you have written down. Save time and trouble by photographing both pages facing you. Don’t peak at the information. It’ll slow you down. (OK, I confess. If it’s a brick wall subject, I always peak.) Continue this process through each of the names and pages on your list. Photograph maps or diagrams you stumble across in the volume. Then repeat the process for each book on the table preparing and photographing a page for each one.
- When you’re finished with the first five or six books, place them on the return carts (do not re-shelve them) and find the next five or six books on your list. Repeat the process as before until you finish your entire list or have to go home.
When you arrive home:
- Download all of your images. Hopefully your photo editing software collects your download/upload dump into one file. (I believe the most I’ve collected from one facility is 996 over two full days.)
- I name this one file with the name of the city, facility and date of the visit.
- I create sub-folders within this one main folder. The sub-folders are named according to the titles of the books from which I gathered the images. These images should be numbered in sequential order by your camera and/or photo software. Keep those image designations. Do Not Change Them. Do not rename them. Now, simply collect the proper images for each titled folder (the title of a book or document) and deposit them in the folder. I now possess the images pertinent to my research in the proper folders for each book I photographed.
- NOW the work begins! I must, at my own pace, go through each page and mine out the “gold” for my research while carefully documenting my sources. Then I can analyze the data and better tell my family’s story.
- Backup! Backup! Backup! Backup all data using multiple resources.
- Finally, I prepare a hard copy file folder for the trip and place the research guide and name pages I prepared for each book or document in this file.
I’m fortunate to live “down the street” from some excellent genealogical research resources. But, they don’t have everything I need and I can’t get everything I need online – not even barely. If I’m going to go through the time and expense to travel to a research facility, I want to gather as much “gold” as I can. I’m sure you feel the same way. This is just one idea how you might do it.
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Is DNA a genealogical miracle? Is DNA the answer to all your genealogical problems? No. And no. So, why send your DNA sample off and pay someone to work-up your profile? Because DNA is solid science and fast becoming an invaluable option in the genealogist/family historian’s toolbox.
I sent my DNA samples off last January. I did some research first. I decided on an autosomal test and chose two companies. One sample went to Ancestry.com. The other went to Family Tree DNA. The results reached my inbox about eight weeks later within a few days of one another. Here are some benefits I experienced in the first week of having the results:
- Confirmed the family identity of the male DNA contributor to my grandfather and therefore confirmed my suspicion of who did not contribute DNA to him.
- Confirmed we have yet to identify a family surname in another line of our pedigree chart. (Some researchers think they know but the DNA says it isn’t so.)
- Confronted (and for me settled) the family lore of having Cherokee descendants in our specific family lines.
- Confirmed my connections to cousins I met in “the old fashion way” of doing genealogy AND connected me to new cousins across America.
Sound like a miracle? Maybe, but it’s not.
Here are some things DNA cannot do for you.
- Build a family tree. (At least not yet!) If you’re hoping to use DNA to breakdown your genealogical brick walls, you had better get to work on your tree! Your DNA results may tell you you’re related by DNA to another contributor but good luck on knowing who, how, when and where without doing the hard work of genealogy. I’m amazed at the number of people I match and they have no tree uploaded. I can see some applications of DNA which would not need a tree but not if you’re doing genealogical/family history work.
- Go to the library, research center or courthouse for you. Your DNA results can’t travel on your behalf and make the connections that help tell your story. Where did the people with my DNA live? Who were their neighbors? When and where did these DNAs “marry”? How did somebody with my DNA get where I am geographically?
- Fill in the gaps and make your family history rich. Your DNA results cannot interview family members. They cannot take you to a home place and fire your imagination. They cannot show you a picture to put a face on that contributor. They can’t tell you the stories of a 95-year-old great-aunt.
- They can’t do the footwork of emailing, messaging or calling the other matches to compare notes. And if the two of you don’t have well-built trees, you may not accomplish much when you do visit.
- They can’t interpret themselves. You or somebody else must interpret your results if you’re going to get the most out of them. For me, this has been a steep learning curve. I’m in my 8th month and some days feel as if I haven’t learned a thing! DNA results 100. Gary 0. I like learning new things. I like a challenge. But, honestly, I’ve got my hands full with this one.
And so you ask, would I do it all over again? Would I spend about $100 per sample to have my DNA tested? Absolutely! As I write this post, I can’t wait for my sister’s mtDNA test results to come back! It’ll be a wonderful addition to our research. I just have to do the hard work of understanding and using the depth of knowledge and insight it provides to better tell our family’s full and fascinating story.
Here are some steps you can take if you are serious about using DNA.
- Go online and do a search using the terms “Genealogy” AND “DNA”. Do it just like I typed it with the quotation marks.
- Go to the YouTube site and plug in the same terms. Watch a couple of videos on the basics. (BTW, if you’re not using YouTube in your genealogy “how to” learning, you’re missing a great tool.)
- Now, spend some time. Do some research. Don’t be discouraged by the complexity. Visit with someone who loves the science and technology of it.
- Find and read blogs specific to the subject of DNA testing. Most of the people on my Blogroll (to your right probably) have written on this subject. Go to their blog and plug the letters “DNA” into their site search box.
Once you get your tree built, gedcom file ready to upload and DNA results available, use these two other wonderful free online tools: Gedmatch and Genome Mate Pro. The future is here.
Here’s how I could use your help.
- If you have family with the surname “Roberts” who’s ancestors have lived in Lunenburg, Charlotte or Mecklenburg Counties, Virginia since the 1760s please put us in contact with one another. I’m laughing as I write this. It sounds so crazy and presumptuous!
- If you know a family with the surnames “Wray”, “Ray”, “Rhea”, “Whitson” or “Eagan” and they had relatives in or around Wilson County, Tennessee ca 1799 – 1840, please put us in contact with one another. (Use the comment section.)
- And, if you have old family photos, please do not destroy them before some family member can identify them and get them up on the internet to bring joy and context to some future researcher. You may possess the only “bread crumbs” leading to your family’s past. Treat them as treasure.
Now, where is that Genome Mate Pro instructional video…?
Here’s another great Legacy Family Tree seminar. It’s FREE for a limited time. Genealogist Warren Bittner shares his years of experience by sharing some of his mistakes as a researcher and how you can avoid them. Humorous and Helpful.
Click on the link and press the “Watch Video” button. Enjoy!
Online family trees can be a blessing or a curse in your family research.
They are a curse if you…
- Dismiss them as having no value to your research
- Take them as “gospel” truth without question
- Use their information without confirming its accuracy
- Copy them to just fill in the blanks on your family tree
They are a blessing if you…
- Use them as clues providing direction to your research
- Ask, “Can I confirm or disprove these statements?”
- Use them as affirmation when they agree with your completed research.
- Connect you with other researchers interested in your family line
When I began researching my Byrd family, I met a 1st cousin I didn’t know. Harold invited me to view his family tree on Ancestry and it has served as an invaluable guide in my Byrd family research. Thanks Harold Byrd! Some of the most exhaustive work done on our Byrd family has been done by Randall Byrd. Much of his work was done in the difficult old fashion ways of the past. Thanks Randall!
How you use family trees built by others is entirely up to you. Keep this in mind. Your decision will be a blessing or a curse to your family research.
Legacy Family Tree offers free weibnars for non-subscribers on an almost weekly basis. There are presently two FREE seminars for your viewing. Check these out. Simply click the view button.
American Revolution Genealogy (Until the 15th)
The War of Independence changed history; our history; our families’ history. It’s a story about which we want to know more. Did my ancestor help? …even a little? There’s much to be learned about our ancestors’ roles in this moment in history. In this class, we’ll discover where to start, what the best resources are, and how to tackle the research. So, let’s go in search of answers using the soldiers’ service and pension records and unit narratives.
Hookers, Crooks, and Kooks – Aunt Merle Didn’t Run a Boarding House (Until the 17th)
Each of us wants to ignore that scalawag, that counterfeiter, or that madam in our family, but the black sheep may prove the most interesting of all. Learn to examine clues in unusual and also common sources. Learn how they lead to locating more records.
The internet enables incredible research and collaboration with others on your family’s history. It’s also fraught with potential traps and misdirection. A research mistake by you or others is multiplied. In the past, a person took a blank family tree chart or family group sheet and filled in the blanks on paper as they researched their family. It was a simple way to keep track of the “facts” they uncovered in their research. If they were wrong, if they made a mistake in their research, very few people knew or were affected. That’s not true today.
Family history is not a competition. We may use games to teach our family history but the research we do is not a game. When we fail in our due diligence and rush to fill in as many blanks as possible on an online family tree, we confuse and potentially misdirect others. We may leave behind lies rather than facts for our families to follow.
This is NOT a call to abandon or stop posting online family trees. I would never do that. The collaborative aspect is much too valuable. I’m appealing for accuracy in our research before we post and when we’re not sure about our conclusion to be very clear about our uncertainty. And there lies the problem with family trees. They are made up of names, dates and lines connecting those names and dates. They create blanks for us to fill in and discourage uncertainty. Family trees are not theses or dissertations. They’re a simplified expression of that kind of research and thought.
It’s OK to leave blanks on family trees when we’re not reasonably certain what should go in those blanks. It’s OK for others to question what we have put in our blanks. We should welcome this. It’s OK to change the information in our blanks. It’s OK to use “abt” or “ca” or “unknown”. Doing so may be better for you and others.
Here’s the bottom line. You have to decide. As the genealogist/family historian are you going to focus on finding the facts or filling in the blanks as fast as you can? Will it be a competition or competent research? If it’s competent research, you’ll be able to fill in the blanks with confidence.
I wrote in an earlier post about the importance of skepticism when doing genealogy/family history research. Here’s a good example. This is a death certificate I found yesterday while doing some research for a new cousin. What do you see recorded as the full name for the subject of this official death certificate? How would you transcribe this name?
The indexer for this collection saw this name as “Edith Van Connie Drury”. What did you see? Here’s what the indexer should have seen and recorded: Edith Victoria Drury.
Be cautious and tenacious when doing your research. A future fellow researcher will rise up and call you “blessed!”
Wealth generates paperwork. Deeds, lawsuits, contracts, account books, purchase records, education, etc. all produce records of our past. The wealthier you are, the more paperwork is produced. The more paperwork produced makes it easier to find and follow our relatives and their past. We follow their extensive paper trail.
Backtracking the common is the challenge. Finding and following those who have left little to follow is the task of many family historians. You’ll need determination and tenaciousness. You may have to get creative. You will need the help of others. Reach out. Ask. Collaborate. Be open. Be grateful.
Consider joining an online community like Backtracking the Common.
Beginning genealogists – family historians – are truth seekers. They are fact finders. The stories they tell may be wonderfully crafted (Some do this better than others and that’s okay.) but, these stories are always shaped and supported by the facts. Aunt Sally’s story may enhance the family’s prominence or save the family’s “face”, but the historian in you must always discover the facts. Once those facts are known you may tell them in your unique voice and by doing so bless your family, community and world. What would have been lost history is now recorded history. Thanks!
Decide now beginning genealogist, family historian – fact or fiction?