Friday, August 12, 2011

I Love Free!!!

Doing genealogy utilizing the latest technology is just awesome. Being able to do it with a multitude of resources that are free is even better.

The FamilySearch website, a website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, now has a new great offering for genealogists. They are providing over 100 research courses available on their site for free, ranging from beginning genealogy basics, to area-specific research helps, to advanced research principles and tools.

Of course, there are tips and free courses for beginning family history enthusiasts all over the web, but many of these on the FamilySearch site are actual videos to walk you through the steps visually. Most courses also have downloadable course handouts in PDF format. You've got to love the easiness of that!

The research courses are available by going to, or you can go to, click on the "Learn" tab, and then click on "Research Courses."

Of course, these courses are only an added benefit in addition to the Research Wiki that FamilySearch also has in place now. This free wiki now contains over 60,000+ articles on research information, useful tips, how-tos, etc. Again, you can get to the Research Wiki by clicking on the "Learn" tab and then "Research Wiki." Or you can go directly to the URL at

Thanks to FamilySearch for making these tools available to us for free! It is certainly more valuable than the hats you get for signing up for airline rewards or the pens you get for opening a new bank account. Of course, if you collect cheap hats or pens, you're free to disagree with me...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

I Visit Dead People

I am obsessed with cemeteries. If you read this blog, you probably are, too, so I'm in good company.

Some people have an obsession with cars, or celebrities, or food, or geo-caching (don't ask). Mine is headstones.

Anytime I drive past a cemetery, I have to fight the urge to pull over and explore the grounds. It's like finding a "buried" treasure. I know you're rolling your eyes at this point, so enough with the graveyard puns -- for now.

Cemeteries can be tremendous sources of evidence for genealogists. Headstones can contain a wealth of information about an individual, such as names, dates, family members, birthplaces, and even brief notes about their personality or occupation. In addition, cemeteries where the grounds are still maintained frequently have a main office and office staff that can be helpful in locating records with more information on each plot and the individuals in each plot.

In addition to these sources of information, which require a physical visit or a phone call to the actual cemetery (neither of which is always possible), there are ways to get burial records online. Since there are literally thousands, I'm only going to mention a few of the big sites that are my go-to sources.

First, there is This my newest favorite for cemetery information. You can search by name, or you can browse their entire cemetery database by country, state, and county. You can upload information from headstones that you've transcribed and add them to their site for others to find. You can upload photos and contact other volunteers who have added information. You can also leave virtual flowers at any grave listed.

The second site I like to use is the USGenWeb tombstone project. This one has been around a bit longer; however, the layout isn't quite as user-friendly. This is another one where you can search by state, county, and then cemetery. However, for many U.S. states, still seems to have more records in terms of quantity. is another site that is searchable by location, and, as an added bonus, it also lists additional resources for death and burial records for the locale you are searching.

It's also helpful to remember that each locale can vary greatly as far as availability of online records. For example, Illinois has an Illinois Database Archives online which is searchable. It is not exhaustive by any means in terms of Illinois records, but it certainly has a lot there if you have an ancestor you're searching for in that state.

The best thing to do when you're hitting a "dead" end with a grave record is to Google the name of your locale and then "cemetery records" or something similar and see what comes up in the search results. And remember to try different search terms. For example, when I enter "Illinois burial records" on Google, I get a very different list of relevant sites than when I enter in "Illinois cemetery records."

As always, I encourage you, if you have the ability and availability, to contribute to some of these online volunteer projects. You never know who you might be able to help in their research by posting some transcribed headstones from a local cemetery, and it's likely that what YOU find online will be through the efforts of someone else.

Good luck, and happy "digging!"

Friday, February 4, 2011

Celebrity Genealogy Back on Primetime!

I have to admit that I'm not really into the whole reality television craze. Of course, this is coming from someone who is so fascinated by family history that driving past an old cemetery can make my whole week. However, that said, I will be seated on my sofa at 7pm this evening for NBC's "Who Do You Think You Are?" premier. My children get excited over Santa Claus. I get excited for this.

If you haven't seen it before, this show is a series showcasing various celebrities and their journeys of learning their family history. The research is done in partnership with

This season's celebrities are Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Rosie O’Donnell, Steve Buscemi, Kim Cattrall, Lionel Richie, Vanessa Williams and Ashley Judd.

Part of the reason I find this series so fascinating is that it highlights some of the common roots we all share. We all have ancestors we are proud of, and some we'd like to keep hidden in the proverbial family attic. But we all came from somewhere, and it helps us to know and appreciate who we are and why we are who we are because of where we came from.

Last year's premier season of this show also generated a huge increase in genealogy interest across the country. I'm sure this season will be no different. We all benefit from that because the more of us genealogists there are out there looking into our family histories, the more people we can coordinate with and learn from.

Finally, as an added bonus (oh, yeah), will be sponsoring The Ultimate Family History Journey Sweepstakes with a grand prize of $20,000 in travel money, 8 hours of consultation with an expert genealogist, and a yearlong World Deluxe membership for the winner and 5 family members. 20 First Place prizes of an annual World Deluxe membership will also be awarded.

Okay, seriously, who would not want an all-expense paid trip abroad? I certainly wouldn't turn that down.

I know this is still the entertainment industry, but I think this is a well-produced show that generates interest in a great cause, and is a good reminder for us all that, celebrity or not, we are all people with more similarities than differences. Knowing our ancestry can help us learn from the mistakes of the past, while celebrating the heritage that has been passed onto us. So, turn on your televisions tonight at 8/7 central, and don't forget to enter the sweepstakes, too!

 Who Do You Think You Are Season 2 Sweepstakes

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Permanent Markers Not Welcome!

Another day, another new piece of evidence to add to the pile. I had a distant relative contact me through my family website the other day asking about some family members with the surname of Wineman. She had run into a brick wall with her great-grandfather and great-grandmother, Daniel Raphael Bradley and his wife, Ellen. My relative's grandmother, who married their youngest son, James, had helped fill in some baby books years ago, and had put Ellen's maiden name as Wineman. However, there was never any paper trail to back this up. Since I had Winemans in my line, she thought we could exchange information and see if we could come up with any theories.

There was another researcher out there on that also had some research on this line. However, this individual had listed Ellen's maiden name as Johnson, not Wineman. Since she couldn't get a response back from the researcher to see where that information had come from, she had nothing semi-concrete to go on. (I say semi-concrete because in genealogy, nothing is permanent. Seriously. Your entire ancestral picture can change with one new piece of information.) Since she had no paper trail, she wisely left the information she had been given from her grandmother in her files and made notes of this other research.

Part of the issue was that Daniel Bradley and Ellen were both born in Kentucky, moved to Illinois during their married life, and then Ellen had died in 1865, when their youngest child of seven, James, was about 7 years old. In 1880, Daniel was found in the federal census living alone, in Kansas.

During the 1800s, when the mother of a family died young, the children didn't often stay with dad. They were usually shipped off together or separated among different relatives, which definitely makes the individuals in that kind of situation a little harder to track down.

Here's where persistent research and investigative work come into play. This relative had traced the family through the 1850 and 1860 census, and then found Daniel in the 1880 census. The gap she was missing was the 1870 census, which was a mere 5 years after Ellen died. If we could find the father or children in this census, we might also find some more relatives that would help us pinpoint Ellen's maiden name. Or at least give us a direction to go.

So, with that in mind, I started digging into the 1870 census, looking for dad and each of the children separately. I found the 2 youngest children, James, and his older brother, Moses, both living with relatives. Moses Bradley, now 14 years old in 1870, was living with William Harvey Wineman and his wife, Nancy Fielding nee Johnson. And James, who was 12 years old, was found living with John Morris and his wife, Francis nee Johnson.

Based on all of this information, we have arrived at a temporary theory about Ellen's maiden name and all of the confusion. It's likely that this relative's grandmother had thought her mother-in-law's maiden name was Wineman, when in fact, her mother-in-law's sister had married a Wineman. It's also likely that Nancy Johnson Wineman and Francis Johnson Morris were Ellen's sisters, as they were also born in Kentucky, and they took in her children after Ellen died. With all of that now discovered, we think it's probable that Ellen's maiden name was Johnson, and that her sister married a Wineman, bringing that surname, and confusion, into the mix.

Of course, my relative will still need to spend some time tracking down a paper trail on this, probably with the focus on locating an obituary on Ellen from 1865, or a marriage certificate for Daniel Bradley and Ellen from Kentucky.

The point of this post is to re-emphasize the fact that genealogy is like a great artwork, done in pencil. At any point, we need to be able to erase and re-draw if we find evidence that changes the picture. It's also important that we keep very good notes on our research. It would have been much harder for us to come to these theories had my relative not kept very good detail on which census records she had already searched and what those showed about the family. If I had to search through 3 more federal census records, it would have taken a lot longer. Finally, don't rule out anything. In cases where you hit a brick wall with a certain relative, look at the spouse, siblings, children, or grandchildren. In this case, a good starting point was looking in the census where we had not located the family, and of course, looking for each individual child. Just James or just Moses living with a Johnson relative would not have been as compelling a piece of evidence as both of them ending up in the care of 2 different Johnson relatives. That definitely makes a stronger case for the conclusion that Ellen's maiden name was Johnson.

We are constantly adding new pieces to the puzzle, and nothing is ever truly written in stone. It indeed is persistent detective work, which is not always elementary, my dear, Watson.