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Friday, August 21, 2009

How I Organized My Genealogy Paperwork (or How I spent my summer vacation!)

I've read a few other folks' ideas on the 'best way' to organize your genealogy. Honestly, the 'best way' is the one that works for you. Organization is the key to survival in any aspect of life!

You already know that genealogy research generates mountains of papers, from seriously important copies of vital records and heirloom family notes and letters, to simple “notes to self” on ideas of where to research next on a family line. And I’m sure you’ve already figured out that it sure would be nice to have a simple organization system so that you could, at a moments notice, find your 3rd great grandmother’s death certificate (did I file it under her married name or her maiden name?), or the marriage certificate that you came across of someone that you’re just sure belongs to your family, but you’re not quite certain of the connection yet.

I’ve organized and re-organized my genealogy papers a couple of times until I’ve finally put together a system that works for me. I won't be so pretentious as to say that its the best way to organize your stuff, only that, as I said, it works for me. Here’s how it goes:

1. Family Binder. I keep one large notebook. The first page is a quarter fan chart of my father’s ancestry, and the second page is a quarter fan chart of my mother’s. In one quick glance I can see the names of 7 generations of each side of my family.

Next I have a family group sheet printed out for every head of household that appears on each of those fan charts. I include notes and sources on these printouts so that I can quickly verify my information sources without having to fire up my laptop. These family group sheets are organized alphabetically in the notebook by the last name of the husband.

At the top of each family group sheet, I have penciled in either “O” for my father’s side (the Osmers), or “B” for my mother’s side (the Burges), along with that head of household’s relation to either my mother or father. For example, “O-5gg”, at the top of the page would quickly tell me that the husband of that family was my father’s fifth great-grandfather. With this system, I can find any direct line ancestor very quickly.

If I am going to be taking a research trip to another state, I run reports for each county that I might be near, of who in my family file was born, married or died there, and I include these lists in my notebook right behind the fan charts, with a post-it note tab for the county. Again, a very quick way of seeing who I might possibly find information on when in a specific area.

2. File Folders. Everything else goes in file folders. First I numbered major category headings that pretty much cover all the papers I’ve collected. My headings are: 1. To Do; 2. People; 3. Places; 4. Vital Records; 5. Publications; 6. Organizations; 7. How To.

Within each of these major headings, I have several sub-headings, and number the folders accordingly. For example, my section number 4-Vital Records, has the sub folders numbered 4.1 Census; 4.2 Birth; 4.3 Marriage; 4.4 Death; 4.5 Military; 4.6 Land; 4.9 Wills & Estates.

And some of have even more folders within them. Section 4.4 Death also contains a folder for 4.4CERT for Death Certificates, 4.4FC for Funeral Cards, and 4.4OB for obituaries.

So now, I file all my birth certificates in folder 4.2-Births, and all Death certificates in folder 4.4CERT. But wait - there’s one other step that I take before I file anything. A database!!! Every piece of paper that goes into any file then gets labeled with its own unique identifying number, which includes the folder number plus a unique three digit number (starting with 001). So the first birth record that I put in the folder 4.2 Births will be labeled 4.2-001 and then in my database I will identify that Item 4.2-001 is a birth certificate, for Jane Doe, and include other information like the date of the certificate, location etc (usually everything required for a good source citation). Items are numbered consecutively by the order they are entered into the file. I can easily find anything by doing a quick search in the database (done in Excel) for either a name, or a document type, to find any entry I have made.

I’ve found this to be so much easier than trying to remember if I should put a woman’s papers in with her husband, or in with her father, or what to do if a document lists more than one person... Doesn’t matter, I just slap a number on it, record it in my database and file it by document type.

Another example is my section number 3 - Places. The folders within that are locations, and usually include locale information that may cover several families, or local histories or other tidbits. The sub folders are broken down by state, i.e., 3CT for Connecticut, or 3OH for Ohio. And within a state folder I might also break it down by county, so the labeling would then be 3OH.Ash for Ashtabula County, Ohio, or 3OH.Gea for Geauga County, Ohio.

And because there are always things that seem to defy categorization, within the 2-People section, I have a folder called 2.3 Surnames. Within that section, I have dozens of folders with labeled with surnames in the following fashion: 2.3BUR -Burge, 2.3THO - Thompson, etc. I just use the beginning code when I enter an item into my database, so that I know exactly which folder I put it into. If I get an e-mail from someone with some interesting information on a family, I may print it out and file it this way in a surname file.

My advice is to take some time to think through what folder names you need for your organization, and make yourself a list, and number them. And be religious about assigning a unique number to, and entering any new items into your database. Print out a copy of the database from time to time, and keep a backup someplace safe as well, if you don’t have an online backup service.

There are several excellent books and articles written by other folks on how to organize your genealogy. It is definitely worth it to read through some of them and find one that you think will fit your needs and organizational style. All the research in the world won’t do you any good if you can’t find it when you need it! I wish you the best of luck!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Researching Your Foreign Ancestors Online & Elsewhere

It can be a bit disheartening when you start chasing a family line, and you soon find yourself in a foreign country, like Denmark, Italy or Czechoslovakia. What do you do next? How can you further your family research if you can’t afford a trip overseas and you don’t speak the language?

Well believe it or not, you actually have several options. They all involve a little work, mind you - nothing quite so simple as typing your name into, but it doesn’t have to be all that much harder!

There are two ways to access foreign records yourself without going overseas - on microfilm and online. Microfilmed records allow you access to the world, but as close as your local Family History Center. For example, you might read through the parish records of small towns in Europe that may date back into the 1500s. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has sent people all over the world, filming vital records and family histories from every country, resulting in over two million rolls of microfilm and microfiche. You can peruse these films at, by searching through the Library Catalog (under the Library tab). I explained this in more detail on my previous post about the website.

Many countries have lots of valuable genealogical records available online as well, in archives and other websites. But these sites won’t normally turn up in your standard Google search because searches in English often limit results to sites in English as well. Thats why you want to use the Google Language Tools. From the main Google page, just to the right of the search box are the words “Language Tools”. If you click on this, it will bring up another web page, with several options, but the very first is a goldmine. From “Search across languages” you may type in your search term, leaving your language as English, and then choose the language you would like to search in. (I would recommend ~genealogy – searching with the tilde in front of the word genealogy will include all synonyms of the word genealogy, ie, family history, pedigree, ancestors, etc). The search results will be foreign genealogy websites, originally written in the language you chose, but translated into English!

If you already have an address of a foreign site that you would like to translate, from the Google Language Tools page you can scroll down and paste the address in, choose your language options, and voila! The webpage is now in English!

Finally, if you just don’t want to deal with the research and translation on your own, you could consider hiring a professional genealogist who specializes in that country. The Association of Professional Genealogists keeps a list of members that you can search ( to find someone who may fit your needs. You can also google “Professional Genealogists” and the country you are researching. Another option is a fairly new website service called You can post your project for free and with no obligation, and choose from the researchers who bid on your job based on qualifications and price. It’s a very convenient way of connecting folks.

Don’t let a little thing like language or distance stop your research!

Friday, August 7, 2009

A Misunderstood & Underutilized Resource

Lots of folks tend to be misinformed about LDS genealogy resources. Many changes have been going on in the past few years, which have included major revamping of the LDS genealogy website I’d like to just mention a few of the resources available from the website that I feel are invaluable - and even better than (because they’re free!)

From the website’s main page, you can still download a free genealogy organization program for your computer (Personal Ancestral File), and also search the billions of names in the IGI (a database comprised of both personal submissions and extracted names from vital records), Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File (both databases of user submitted names). As with any user-submitted records, there are always the possibilities of error and incorrect data. But you can often at least get an idea of what direction to take your own research to prove or disprove these pedigrees. Honestly, these name databases are my least favorite part of the FamilySearch website, which now also includes many original records and images.

The tabs that run across near the top of the webpage in blue are your gateway to valuable genealogical records. From the “Search Records” tab, you can browse or search through thousands of digitized books - local & family histories, genealogies and journals - by choosing “Historical Books”.

Also under the “Research” tab, by choosing “Record Search Pilot”, you can search through thousands of newly indexed records from the FamilySearch Indexing program, where volunteers are indexing vital records microfilm from the Family History Library collection. Many of the search results include access to the actual images associated with the record - birth, death or marriage certificates, census images or church record images from the US and around the world - all for free. This incredible resource is continually being updated and added to so check back from time to time to see what the latest additions are. Or better yet, sign up under the “Index Records” tab and help out yourself - also getting access to the records before they are posted for everyone!

Under the “Research Helps” tab you will find articles and research guides for every state in the US and every country in the world (or at least most of them...) These guides include records availability, repository information and in the case of foreign research, often language help and word guides. These resources will give you direction and guidance on how to proceed with your research in any given location, and are a great place to start.

The “Library” tab includes information on the Salt Lake Family History Library, but also includes free online research classes under “Education”. Classes include Research in England, Germany, Italy, Hispanic (in Spanish), Russia and US.

One of the best features under the Library tab is the access to the Family History Library Catalog. From “Library Catalog” you can search or browse through the millions of books and microfilm available for rental from your local Family History Center. If you are lucky, when you locate a film that interests you, the Film Notes will include the phrase (in red) “To view a digital version of this item click here” - and you can have instant access to the film online!

The microfilm & microfiche collection include the actual images from courthouse and other records from the United States, and church parish registers from around the world. I’ve “read” through parish registers from tiny churches in England, handwritten in Latin going back to the 1500s. Absolutely amazing! And all available as close as my local LDS Family History Center. (You can determine which films you are interested in online, but the films need to be ordered & viewed at a Family History Center or library with FHL privileges, for a small rental fee of about $5.50).

The website can be an invaluable help for your genealogical research, for both locating and viewing original documents relating to your ancestors. I've only touched on a few of the available resources. Spend some time there today yourself!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Dairy Diary

My last blog post started a lot of family discussion as dad tried to locate pictures of the white percherons. My dad, now 85, grew up on the dairy, and my eldest cousin, Ann, spent a lot of time there when she was growing up also. Their recent correspondence, spurred by a photo of my dad's sister, is worth sharing - a small glimpse into farm life.

Ann: While I was looking for the horse picture, I came across this picture of mom when she was small. Is the house in the background the farmhouse? I don't think I have ever seen a picture of the house before the north part was torn off. I can remember the inside of that room, but not the outside. I think we only used the kitchen in the summer, and then used the big room for a dining room and kitchen combined in the winter.

Dad: The North wing of the house was originally a local cheese factory that the previous owner had moved and attached to the main house. The first room as you entered the front door (shown in the picture) was a dining room where we fed the thrashing crews a couple of times every year. Beyond it was the kitchen (under the chimney shown in the pic) with the cast iron wood burning cook stove under which you got your head caught while trying to catch a cat or retrieve a ball. Mom, or maybe Dad and I had to lift the stove a few inches to get your head loose. Do you remember that?

Ann: I do remember getting my head caught under the cookstove, but the way I remember it is my whole body was under that stove. I remember looking out from under that stove, and it probably was just my head. I remember that someone got a board and pried up the stove so I could get out. I know grandma did have an oil stove that she cooked on, and I remember having a long table that they put the dishpan, rinse pan, and a drainer. I don't remember having a sink. I also remember having a slop pail where they threw the dishwater. There was a big heating stove in the room that ended up being the dining room. I'm pretty sure that was the only heat we had until they got the furnace. It seems like grandpa took the stove out in the summer and then put it back in the winter.

Dad: Beyond the kitchen was a storeroom which had a corner closet where our toys were kept. On the outside of that room was the woodshed and a porch off the kitchen which led to the cistern and to the stairs down to the cellar where we cooled our food in the summertime. Mom used to feed the cats and kittens on the porch so there was always a cat or two waiting to be fed. Mom's daily routine was to save a large pan of milk from the milk house and take it to the cellar to keep it cool. Occasionally she would back out the door with the pan of milk and as she cleared the screen door and turned around, she would step on a kitten which screamed, followed by Mom's scream and we would have another day with no milk.

Regarding the kitchen use, I left in Jan of 43 for the Navy and I think Mom was cooking 3 meals a day all year on that kitchen but she may have switched to a kerosene stove. I'm getting a little hazy on the details of that period.

Ann: I can remember Tom Franks doing the remodeling, and he ate lunch with us and told a lot of stories. I can't remember what it was he told us, but I guess I thought it was strange so I asked grandma about it. She told me that he told "yarns." I had no idea what a yarn was. I can also remember that during the war, they had what they called "blackouts." Everyone was supposed to turn all the lights out, so in case we were attacked the enemy couldn't find us. A man used to walk past each house to see if any lights were on. Grandpa used to listen to the radio, and he would hold a paper or cardboard in front of the radio so the man couldn't see the light from the dial.

Me: My grandfather died in 1969 and the farm was sold shortly after that. My dad, my son and I were back in Ohio this past summer and were able to visit the old farm, which has changed quite a bit. But one thing remained the same - there were cats everywhere!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Find your ancestors in journals!

Brigham Young University is working on a new website called Historic Journals ( where historic journals are being digitized and posted online. If you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and have registered for the New FamilySearch program, you can sign in to the website, and automatically, your pedigree chart from NewFamilySearch is compared to the names that have been identified in the journals, and if there are any matches, you can read those journals online, for free!

If you're not LDS, you can still browse through the journals and view and read the original images for free.

The site also invites folks to submit journals of their own ancestors that they might have in their possession as well, in order to be able to connect with other possible relatives of the same ancestors.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Great Website for German/Russian Immigrant Ancestors

I came across another really interesting website today, called Odessa ( The Odessa website is an absolute goldmine of information about Germans who emigrated to Russia in the 1800s, and their descendants. There are digitized books and transcribed and indexed microfilm from the Family History Library for dozens of different areas and topics.

One of the main purposes of the website is to connect researchers to one another. Definitely read the "About Odessa" page to get an overview of the site and how to contact others.

The "Collections" page is where the bulk of the records are. You can click on the "Full Text Search" button near the top of the page to search for specific surnames. The results are displayed in a very easy to read list.

Records available on the site that have either been indexed or transcribed include census, land, cemeteries, family histories, church records, immigration/emigration records and more. There is even a section of .gedcom files for specific families.

The author of the website is Roger Ehrich, who hosts and manages the collections, and graciously shares all of this great information for free to anyone interested. If you have ancestry that includes German/Russian immigrants, you must check this website out!

I've included the address on my toolbar as well, for now under "Germany" in the "Free Sites" tab. The toolbar is a free download and easily uninstalled if you don't like it.