Saturday, December 29, 2012

RootsTech 2013

Yay for RootsTech! One day, when I can tear myself away from my chaotic life for a weekend and be more certain that my kids will all be alive and well upon my return, I may actually make it to RootsTech in person. In the meantime, I'll have to settle for living vicariously through those who go, so if you end up heading that way this year, send me a message or leave me comments about your experience. I'd love to hear about it! Thank goodness for the Internet streaming option!

RootsTech Early Bird registration is now available here. And it's really affordable for a full 3-day pass with that option. That way, you have access to all of the classes, events, and workshops. However, you'll want to hurry fast because the workshops fill up quickly.

The dates for the conference are Thursday, March 21st thru Saturday, March 23rd, 2013, at the Salt Palace Convention Center in downtown Salt Lake City. For those not living in Utah, the venue once again provides the added bonus of being within spitting distance (well, almost) of the Family History Library. It's all about location, location, location, right?

Well, I'm going to go sit in a corner now with my chocolate stash and bemoan my yearly RootsTech envy.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Help from the Other Side, Part III

See my previous posts for the backstory on this one, but I finally found the time to post the process of finding my great-grand uncle's home that he lived in when he was a Kansan in the 1950s and 1960s.

Through a search on, I was able to find the death certificate (full original image and all) for Martin Witbeck. He and his wife had two sons, and one of them was living in North Carolina.

While visiting his son there in 1962, Martin had an unexpected heart attack and passed away. He was only 63 years old. This doesn't surprise me because the Witbeck side of my family has a huge family history of heart problems.

The death certificate listed Martin's son as the informant for the death. And also listed was Martin's home address in Prairie Village, Kansas. I covered the address with a gray box because the house is still there, and I didn't want to cause the current owner any issues with having their home address published on a blog.

A few weeks ago, I went ahead and took a drive up north to that area, which was just one street over from State Line Road (the boundary line between Kansas and Missouri in that part of the city). It's definitely an older neighborhood, but very, very nice. It has big, towering trees lining the narrow streets, and it was very quiet. All of the houses have been extremely well taken care of. It is one of those pre-HOA era neighborhoods where the homes were anything but cookie-cutter. They each had a different layout and character. Some were brick, some had stone facades, and many had a combination of siding and brick or stone. There were columns on some, turrets on others, wrap-around porches on a few, and they were all beautifully constructed!

In fact, I was sure I was going to get pulled over and arrested just for driving a Toyota instead of a BMW. Add to that the fact that I was slowing down to take a picture of the home, and I'm lucky I didn't end up booked on stalking or harassment charges. Is there a charge for being too economically challenged in a ritzy neighborhood? Well, luckily, I had a getaway driver (kind of - my mother), but I still didn't want to spend a ton of time (or risk my felony-free record) getting out of the car and standing on the sidewalk to get a better picture. So this is the best I could do.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Help from the Other Side, Part II

A few weeks after visiting my great grand uncle's gravesite in Raytown (see Part I), I went to a regional meeting for my church. (Stake conference for my LDS readers.) These meetings fill up quickly so even though my older girls and I got there early, the main chapel was already full. We sat in the cultural hall overflow just a few rows back. I was on an inside aisle seat.

During these meetings, various people are called up spontaneously from the congregation to share a brief testimony. About halfway through the meeting, the gentleman sitting across the aisle from me in the same row was called up. His name was Tom, and I had never met him before.

He started by saying how it was amazing to see the growth of our church in this area. He had moved here when he was 6 months old and had lived here for all 67 years since. He said he remembered when our church first organized a stake in the Kansas City, Missouri area. (A stake is like a regional area for our church, similar to a diocese or parish.) He remembered the first stake president of this new stake in the 1950s, Martin Witbeck. Imagine my surprise when I heard that name after just visiting his grave a few weeks before.

Of course, immediately after the meeting, I stepped across the aisle and introduced myself. He said that President Witbeck was a great man. He moved to Kansas City from Utah as part of his employment as a regional sales director for Safeway Stores. He said he was a wealthy man, but you would never know it by the way he treated others.

Tom's mother was a single mom, and she also worked for Safeway. One night, after a long shift, she went out to her car and saw people putting groceries in her car. She went back in to tell them that someone was loading purchases into the wrong vehicle, and Martin Witbeck told her it wasn't a mistake. The food was for her.

Apparently, Martin lived in the Ward Parkway area of Kansas City, which is still a wealthy area. Tom took down my information and promised to try and track down some pictures for me.

How great it is to have an experience where you learn something about the kind of person an ancestor was and not just factual data. When we start to see a story emerge from what was once just dates and places, that is when genealogy becomes something more than a hobby. It becomes a history lesson, and it evolves into a passion.

Watch for my next post about tracking down the house Martin owned here in Kansas...

Monday, June 4, 2012

Help from the Other Side, Part I

My husband and I have lived in the Midwest for 9 years, but I am originally a Utah girl. My mother's family has been in Utah for several generations, so I never expected to find a close link to any of my maternal ancestors here in Kansas City.

As I was going through my lines on the new Family Search system several weeks ago, updating and merging duplicates, I discovered a great grand uncle who ended up here in the Kansas City area back in the 1950s.

I did some quick "digging" and found that he and his wife had both died here and had been buried in the Floral Hills Cemetery in Raytown, Missouri.

Four weeks ago, my mother and I decided to go try and find their grave sites.

Luckily, this was a cemetery that is still selling new plots, so it was easy to find a phone number on their website. While at the cemetery, we called and asked for the plot information, and they called right back with it.

We found the plot, and I snapped this picture.

We drove home, and I added the picture and information to my files and then didn't think much else about it.

Two weeks ago, I would have another experience with this uncle that wouldn't be so easy to forget.

Part II coming soon...

Friday, May 18, 2012

Calling All Programmers...

This is my SOS to any software developer that needs a great idea for a free-lance project. How about genealogy software for the Mac?

Yes, I realize that there are software programs out there; however, there aren't any that fit a huge chunk of the Mac portion of the genealogy market. How so, you ask? Well.......since you asked.

More and more genealogists (especially those of us Gen X'ers or younger) are already on or are moving to the Apple side of the force. Many genealogists looking for Mac software are also LDS. These are the users that don't have anything currently that fits all of their needs.

I use a decent genealogy software called Reunion. It's the best I've found for Mac without resorting to Parallels or BootCamp and running a Windows package. Reunion has great charts and reports capability. I love the functionality, for the most part. However, if anyone were to come out with a Mac program that really addressed the LDS user's needs, such as integration with newFamilySearch, for example, better LDS reports (like missing ordinances), and better overall LDS features (like updates with new temple codes occasionally); and say, also, that said program also included a nice, clean GUI to boot, well, I'd be a loyal customer for life. And I know many others who have visited my blog and asked about Mac software who would join the ranks, as well.

Yes, I am a programmer. Yes, potentially, I could do it, and I have thought about it. It certainly has the potential to be an extremely profitable project. However, my main job at this point in my life is as a mom to a household of kids, so I don't have the wherewithal anymore to stay up until 4:00am banging my head against the computer over a programming brick-wall that would be fixed with 10 minutes of sleep and a clearer head. (And inevitably, would end up being a missing > somewhere in the hundreds of lines of code.)

So, red stapler-owning, late-night loving, Homestar Runner-watching, geeks everywhere! Please, please, please. I am pleading for you to take up the gauntlet that I have just thrown down. And if you need help with QA from your target user, I'm sure I can find the time for that between homework marathon sessions, loads of laundry, and cooking yet another meal that little people don't even taste as they swallow it whole. In all seriousness, I would love to contribute ideas and suggestions for Mac software (LDS-focused) for anyone looking to build it. And I might even be willing to throw in a plate of homemade brownies, besides, which is nothing to sneeze at because, hey, those brownies can make my kids grow halos at the drop of a hat!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

And time marches on...

I'll be honest. I was not in a rush to get to the 1940 census. I was hoping the fervor would die down among die-hard genealogists, and I could browse through without technical issues when I got some spare time (which I obviously have oodles of with 5 kids). However, I was excited because this was the first census that both of my maternal grandparents were counted in.

So I finally got some time today to do some leisurely browsing (tongue firmly in cheek). Since there is no full, functioning index up for the 1940 census, yet, I set aside a chunk of time to browse page by page where I knew both my grandparents were living at the time. Thankfully, both were in small towns in Utah, so I was able to find them in less time than it takes for my kids to smear peanut butter and jelly art on my walls.

My maternal grandmother, Lily Darlene Taylor, was born and raised in Park City, Utah. Park City was not the ultra-hip, ski resort back then that it is now. It was a very small and struggling mining town. It almost became a ghost-town before the first ski resort opened in 1963. Up until then, its entire economy was centered around the mines.

Lily was 5 years old at the time of the census in 1940. She, her little brother, and her parents, lived with her uncle, Joseph Moroni Taylor, a lifelong bachelor. Both of my grandmother's parents had health problems, so Uncle Rone (as they called him) helped support them. He worked in the silver mine, like most of the residents of Park City at the time. They rented a place at 135 Norfolk Avenue, which according to GoogleMaps is no longer there. Well, there's something there. A little skiing condo probably worth more money now than I'll ever pay for a home. It's just not the original home Lily knew as a 5-year-old.

Five years later, in 1945, Uncle Rone would buy a house on Park Avenue for $1660. Two years after that, at the age of 11, my grandmother would lose her mother. Three years later, at 14 years old, she would lose both her father and Uncle Rone within a week of each other, leaving her an orphan, along with her 12-year-old brother. They moved in with her older half-sister, but my grandmother would soon meet my grandfather and get married.

All of this got me thinking about time and how funny it is. Did Lily play like my 5-year-old does now, with wild abandon and not a care in the world? Or had her parents' health already darkened her life a little? What did she dream about? What had her parents' dreamed of for her and her brother? The 40s for her should have been a time of learning and laughter, struggles mixed with triumphs. She should have been playing with the Slinky and Frisbees, which were invented in the 40s. Or marveling at jet aircraft, television, and microwave ovens. Instead, she saw economic hardship her whole childhood, nursed her mother and father through serious illness, lost a baby brother a year before the census, lost her mother, father and uncle by the start of the 1950s, and moved in with a half-sister she hardly knew.

She was an amazing person, and I have even more respect for her knowing she went through all of that and still came out the other side an amazing person. It makes me realize how little I have to complain about. And reminds me to not waste a precious second of my life or my time with the ones I love. We never know what the next decade will bring, let alone the next day.

Here is a picture of my grandma (circled) in the 40s with her parents, brother (to the right), and some extended family in Park City.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Teenage Alien Ninja Turtles???

Meh! It just doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it? Following director Michael Bay's announcement that he was doing a re-boot of our beloved heroes in a half-shell, but that they would have a more "complicated back-story," the inter-Webs were abuzz with frustration, anger, and mass mutant envy. As Kermit would remind Mr. Bay, it isn't easy being green, but it's even less so when your turtle math is terrible, and you think mutant=alien.

If you are wondering what any of this has to do with genealogy, put down the pen you're using to write the death threat to the world's new least-favorite director, and stay with me here.

There are lots of blogs out there on genealogy. Lots. I mean, way more than the number of Foot Clan who have had their ninja boo-tays kicked by our Renaissance heroes with handkerchiefs on their heads. That said, I hope anyone who visits my blog gets something useful from it. I really do. But my main audience is really you potential genealogy ninjas that are my age. (I'm in my thirties, if you really must know. Not that I haven't dated myself already by this post's particular subject matter.)

You know we are kindred spirits if you and your friends competed to see who could memorize the words to "Ice, Ice, Baby" the fastest. If you've ever owned a pair of hammer pants (or still do, shhhhh....I won't tell), then keep reading, my stylish friend. If you can moonwalk or do the running man, but are still trying to figure out what the "Dougie" is, you are more than welcome here.

If you wore neon t-shirts at some point during junior high, or you still think Michael Jordan is the best basketball-er EV-ER. If you remember when MTV played music videos, or one of your prom themes was a Def Leppard song, then you are in good company.

One of my main goals with this blog (besides bringing genealogy and awesome technology together) is to inspire those of you my age to not wait to do genealogy. Don't wait until you are the oldest generation in your family. Don't wait until the day when only those with gray hair even remember what TMNT stands for.

We have some great talents, Gen-Xers. We saw the birth of the Internet, and we've been among the first to embrace all of the new technology that's followed it. Let's use that to really dig in and take genealogy research to a place that wasn't even dreamed of a mere 10 years ago.

With that said, I still haven't explained what genealogy has to do with turtles, have I? No, it's not that Shredder is plotting to come and destroy all of your family history files. Although that would be cool because I loved his cheesy, I mean, totally rad, metal helmet.

Alas, I digress, my gnarly dudes. The reason TMNT fans are so upset is because changing the backstory, the origin, of where the turtles come from changes EVERYTHING. They are turtles who fell into sewer ooze and became the radical crime-fighting heroes we all love. If Mr. Bay has his way and changes their beginning, then they are no longer the teenage mutant ninja turtles. They are something else entirely.

So it is with us. Our backstories may not be complicated or exciting enough to make a Hollywood movie, but our beginnings are who we are, at our very core. Where we come from, the things we've been taught, the traditions passed down to us, are at the meat of our story. And then, we have the exciting task of being able to keep that story going. But if we don't understand our beginnings, then we don't understand ourselves as well as we should. Hopefully, these violent uprisings (and by violent, I mean thousands of TMNT fans trolling, trolling, and trolling some more) will convince Mr. Bay that where we come from is key to everything else, and remind the rest of us of that same truth.

I am now feeling very nostalgic, so I'm going to go put on my neon shirt, moonwalk downstairs, order some pizza, and watch TMNT the way it was meant to be enjoyed. As Michelangelo would say, have a righteous, kowabunga day, dudes!

Monday, February 20, 2012

In Wisdom and In Order...

This post is specifically for my fellow members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is my personal thoughts and feelings on the most recent controversy over Jewish names being submitted to an LDS genealogy database. For background on this and the official Church position, see the LDS Newsroom's article Church Statement on Jewish Names Entered in Genealogical Database.

As King Benjamin told his people in the Book of Mormon, "see that all these things are done in wisdom and order." Joseph Smith, and every prophet since, has emphasized the work of family history and temple work for the dead as part of our responsibilities as members of the Church. We do this work out of love and a desire for those who've gone before us to receive the opportunity to hear and accept the Gospel.

Part of that responsibility means making sure we are following the Church policies on name submission. Honestly, if we are using the new Family Search system, there is no longer an excuse of "I didn't know." When we submit any name now to have work done, the new Family Search system requires us to check that we have read and are complying with Church policies.

I won't mention all of these policies and guidelines since they are so readily available now, and anyone submitting names should see them every single time they go to submit a name for work. But there are three policies/guidelines that I am going to emphasize because those who haven't submitted names before need to know these and those who have can always use the reminder.

The most important is that we are responsible to submit names for our own ancestors and relatives. That is all. We should never submit a large number of names from databases, census records, historical lists, etc. Abiding by this one thing would minimize much of the ill-will that sometimes results from this policy being ignored. If you are not related by blood, adoption or marriage, don't submit the name. When I do descendant research, such as doing all of the grandkids and great-grandkids for an ancestor of mine, my personal rule of thumb is that I will do the spouses of those people in order to complete the family, but I will not start researching the parents or other ancestors of those spouses. I leave that for the descendants of those people to do.

One minor exception to this would be that the Church allows us to submit names of people who have the same last name as our ancestors and lived in the same geographical location of our ancestors. For example, on my husband's side, we had the surname of Boss. There was a family with the same last name in the same town as my husband's ancestors that kept showing up in census after census. I could submit those names because it is likely there is a family connection that I just haven't found, yet. However, I still personally prefer to try to prove the family connection first before doing any submissions.

Another step I personally take to insure I don't accidentally submit a non-relative is that I use a flag in my genealogy program. I created a custom flag (I use Reunion software on my Mac) named "DNS-Do Not Submit." When I run a list of my database to see which people might need temple ordinances, I make sure the report excludes anyone with this flag. This way, I can add people and connections to my family file just for genealogical and research purposes, but I won't ever accidentally submit those names for work.

The other two policies I want to mention are also taken care of in the new Family Search. However, it's good for us to be aware of these before we submit so we save ourselves time and effort. The first is that if we do not have a date of death (at least the approximate year), we cannot submit names for someone until 110 years have passed since their birth. Obviously, this is to prevent us from accidentally submitting a name for someone who is still living. The new system keeps us from doing this, fortunately.

The second policy is that if the person we are wanting to submit for work was born within the last 95 years, and you are not the closest living relative, you need to get permission from the closest living relative. The new system also asks you this question automatically for anyone whose birthdate is within 95 years of the current date. Don't bypass this checkpoint. There is a reason for this. Again, we don't want to create ill-will by doing a more recently living name when other close living relatives either wouldn't want the work done or would like to do it themselves. In other words, if there is still a living spouse, child, or sibling (in that order) of an individual born in the last 95 years that you want to do work for, get permission from that relative. Please do not just submit the name. If the living relative won't give permission, then wait until the 95 year mark has passed, even if that means waiting a decade or two. If there is no living spouse, child, or sibling, you can probably submit the name, but use your best judgment on this.

The reason for these last two policies is not that we worry about doing work for someone who doesn't want it. That is not an issue. We believe that an individual will still have the choice to accept the temple work done on their behalf or not to accept it. Agency will never be taken from someone. This work is always done in the HOPE, not the certainty, that our relatives will choose to accept it.

The reason behind these two policies, (and this is my personal opinion, not an official position of the Church) is that in doing this work of love, we don't want to create ill-will or cause bad feelings in others about the Church, the gospel, and the work we do.

So as we work to do our part to offer the temple ordinances to our ancestors and family members that have passed on, let us remember to do these things in wisdom and order and according to the policies of the Church on the matter.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Rebels With a Cause

In case you missed it, Season 3 of NBC's Who Do You Think You Are? premiered again on Friday, February 3rd. Honestly, I'm more excited for this show than anything else on television right now. (Sorry, all you Idol fans...)

Martin Sheen was the first celebrity to trace his roots, and it was interesting to watch him discover two uncles, one on the maternal side and one on the paternal side, who both were involved in the civil wars of their respective homelands. He seemed to really connect with their stories because he's been an activist of several causes important to him.

It is amazing what we can discover when we research where we came from and what our ancestors were really like. It can help us see where the ideals we were taught as children really originated.

There are a lot more celebrities scheduled for this season, including Marisa Tomei, Helen Hunt, Reba McEntire, Blair Underwood, Jerome Bettis, Rita Wilson, Paula Deen, Edie Falco, Rob Lowe, and Rashida Jones.

It never hurts, either, that this show tends to inspire a whole new group of people to start researching their ancestry.

Hurray to NBC and for bringing this uplifting show back again this season!

RootsTech recaps available...

For all those, like me, who were unable to attend the RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City this past weekend, recap videos and syllabi for the sessions are now available for download on the RootsTech website. Of course, it's FREE! That always makes something that much better. The individual videos for the RootsTech sessions will also be coming soon.

You can download all of the individual session syllabi, or you can download all of them at once in a large zip file (82MB).

Next year's dates for RootsTech have already been announced, as well. So put it on your calendars now. It will be held March 21-23, 2013, in Salt Lake City. This conference is a fantastic opportunity to keep up with the newest technology being utilized and built for genealogical research.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Genealogy and technology come together at RootsTech!

RootsTech is coming up next weekend, February 2nd-4th, in Salt Lake City, at the Salt Palace Convention Center.

This is a great conference for genealogy users and developers (those of us that are both REALLY love this conference), with keynotes, sessions, and workshops focused on the use of technology in the family history field.

I am sad to say I will be unable to go again this year due to a new baby and travel, but I highly recommend you go and take advantage of not only the learning opportunities but the ability to help shape how technology will change genealogy in the future.

For more information or to register, visit the official RootsTech website at