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I continue to get the question in the classes I teach which goes like this: “I am overwhelmed and do not know where to start. I have (1 to 4) boxes of stuff retrieved from the old family attic, so where do I begin?”

First of all, I say you are lucky. Most people have yet to be told about the find in the attic, other have a sibling who forgot s(he) took the boxes, and many will never locate such a serendipity.

Next I say, read either in my book or on the internet how to record Source records. (I will give two examples shortly).

Then remove the first item out of the first box and put a sequentially numbered label on it if it is a piece or several of paper. The sequential number should be of the form 0001, which allows for 9,999 Source items. If it is a book or bedspread or otherwise clumsy item, then take a piece of paper, apply the label there, and describe on the paper what the item is and where you intend to locate it. For the regular piece of paper or book-replacement numbered 0001, insert it into a legal sized manila folder and do the following: Put the following on a log you will maintain, or prepare an entry in your genealogy software which looks like that below:

0050, Marriage Certificate, C. R. CARDWELL and Emily C. GRAHAM on March 15, 1876.  Item 240 in  the Madisonville, Hopkins County, KY Vital Records Department. The marriage was solemnized by Isaac H. Henry. Attested by C. R. Cardwell and Harvey Graham (father of bride). Groom age 22; bride age 22.  Marriage to occur at Bride’s Home. Witnessed by William Bailey and Joseph Cardwell (brother to groom).

0095, Book, Some Early Pioneers of Western Kentucky, Their Ancestors and Descendants, by Helen E. Hart Peyton, Anundsen Publishing Company, Decorah, Iowa. 1990, Second Edition, found in this Compiler’s Library.

I strongly advise one to buy genealogy software early in your research, and equally important to learn how to enter Source records in that software.

Now, pick up the next item in Box 1, label it or a piece of paper as item 0002 and follow the procedure.

Now if the item is a photograph of totally unknown individuals, just set it aside for later reflection. Do the same for any item you deem useless until you are better acquainted with what are in fact very useful in genealogy, such as Wills, Propate Records, Divorce Degrees, Marriage Certificates, Death Certificates, Probate Inventories, Obituaries, Newspaper articles, Birth Certificates, Deeds, Land Warrants and the like.

Just continue with your serendipities.


Lately I have gotten several e-mails and a few telephone calls asking how I handle census records and some ancillary questions. Here were my answers. If you have read other blog entries you will know that I assign and file every Source with a sequential number and place them in a legal folder, in sequence. This writing will address what happens then.

From the start I intended to write a Family History using Register Reports. Not only are Census reports often difficult to read and almost always require a map or cheat sheet so that you know what the various column are about. Still a copy of the census is numbered and placed into its folder sequentially. All I have on an individual also goes into his or her Notes. I generally put all Note paragraphs into a timeline sequentially so that if one has many paragraphs, you can watch the person grow and observe his movement and action.

Now some questions and answers.

Does all that information go into one main “Note” file in your reunion database, or do you create a separate note field for each census extract and notes?

Yes, all census data for an important person is placed in the Note field.  The Compiler decides who is important and certainly a grandfather qualifies.

Do you put all the overlapping information about subsequent generations  in each generation?  So, for example, if a person lives to be 87 and is enumerated in 1860 and 1870, do you re-copy all your notes into his son’s record and have it both places?

Generally, NO, but if I decide it might help the son’s life explanation, I might copy it or part of it into the latter.

While that’s useful while you pull up one individual record, if you pull up a family history report that has several generations, aren’t you going to have the same extracts repeating?

Very seldom and usually only in shortened form.

Does any of that go in the note field for the family, or only for the individual?

Usually only for the individual but sometimes a shortened version might be placed in a family or child’s record. Remember, all is for a book so just a few pages away is the original writing.

Next ……..  is an example from one of my Notes on an individual covering several issues. The Bxxx is the Source sequential number:

See B496 for his probate records,  which lists his children and grandchildren who are heirs. Includes Declaration of heirs; Petition to sell land; Land transaction with advertisement; and Bill for Specific Performance by Hezikiah Hargrave. Included are Martha Mason Bourland and Harvey Rice Bourland as her son.
1820 Census for Waconteby, White County, Illinois      See B711
00-09    2   William, Cyrus
10-15    1   Thomas
26-44    1   Isaac is 38 yrs
00-09    4   Martha, Sarah, Narcissa, Harriett
26-44    1   Sarah “Sally” Rice Mason is 32 yrs
Next door is Allen More (Moore) married to Sally’s half sister Martha “Patsey” Rice Moore.
1830 Census for Equality, Gallatin County, Illinois       B715
00-04    1   Cyrus
05-09    1   ??
10-14    1   William
20-29    2   Thomas, Unknown
40-49    1   Isaac is 48 yrs
10-14    4   Harriett
15-19    1   Sarah Louise, Narcissa
40-49    1   Sarah “Sally” T. Rice Mason is 42 yrs
Two houses away is Henry Bowling (Bourland) who married daughter Martha in 1829.  Michael Roark is two houses on the other side; Michael’s son William will marry Henry Bourland’s first cousin once removed, Mahulda Bourland.
1840 Census for Gallatin County, IL : Isaac Mason has not been positively located in the 1840 Census. However, the Census does have  the following entry:
Page 4  Line 30   *****Isa** with 101000110000010001
There is a 50-59 year old male, which could be the 58 year old Isaac. There is a 20-29 year old female, which can not be Sarah as she is 52.  It is probably not Lydia Dutton as she is 28 years but married to Joseph Postlewait and he dies in 1843.  There are some children who can not be accounted for, but early deaths and other events as has been seen moved children around considerably. See B783.
1850 Saline Co Ill Census, Curran District:  (See B699)
17  52  52  Isaac Mason  67  M  Tenn
18  52  52  Lydia Mason  38   F  Pa          some have mistaken her for a daughter, but she was his wife. B753
19  52  52  Franklin Bolin  18  M  IL          Bolin/Bourland are children of Martha “Patsy” Mason, Isaac’s dau.
20  52  52  Samuel Bolin  17  M  IL
21  52  52  Wm. Alexis Bays  16  M  IL     These children were daughter Sarah Louise’s by David Bays.
22  52  52  Joseph S. Bays  15  M  IL
23  52  52  Sarah Bays  12  F  IL
24  52  52  Tarleton Bolin  14  M  IL
25  52  52  Harvey Bolin  10  M  IL           Harvey Rice Bourland
26  52  52  Joseph Postlewait  13  M  IL   Lydia’s child by Joseph Postlewait whom she first married.
In this 1850 Census there are several related families living contiguously:
Household #50 has Jonathan B. Moore, son of Allen Floyd Moore who married Sally T. Rice’s half-sister, Martha Rice. Harriett Bays is in this home;
Household #51 is Benjamin Magnes Carnahan son of James Carnahan/Mary Slaton where Mary married (2) David Bays, Jr (after (1) Sarah Louise Mason, daughter of Isaac Mason, died) and in addition Benjamin’s sister Elizabeth married Ebenezer Franklin Bourland and further Benjamin’s sister Phoebe married Rev Ebenezer R. Moore whose mother was Martha Rice Moore and Ebenezer administered Isaac Mason’s probate and further Benjamin’s sister Lucinda married Jonathan B. Moore, son of Martha Rice Moore;
Household #52 is Isaac Mason, Jr.;
Household #53 is William M. Mason, son of Isaac. Harriett Bourland and Frederick, Thomas and Columbus Maltby are in this home;
Household #54 is John Jackson Slaton, brother to Mary who married (2) David Bays, and he himself is married to Hannah Roark, daughter of Michael Roark and further his sister Rachel Slaton married William G. Bourland;
Household #55 is Thomas Delaney Carnahan, son of James Carnahan/Mary Slaton, the latter who married (2) David Bays;
Household #56 is Michael Roark, father to Hannah before, and whose son William married Muhulda Bourland and whose daughter Nancy married Israel D. Sisk.  Isaac D. Maltby is in this home.

Within Households 33 to 68 in addition to those named above, there are closely related families of Samuel Moore (son of Allen Moore); Hezikiah Strutton Sisk and his sons Albert and Benjamin Sisk families; Robert Pearce (son of Moses Pearce); Ebenezer Moore (son of Allen and Administrator of Isaac’s probate; Moses Pearce (who married Martha Rice, half-sister to Sally T. Rice); William and Rachel Bourland and their son Ebenezer; and William Roark, son of Michael Roark.


When teaching my class in genealogy at the local University Continuing Eduction Center, I ask students how they are maintaining their Source files. The answers vary from (1) in 3-ring binders, to (2) in folders by type, that is marriage and death certificates, obituaries and so forth.

I then ask the students how do they file , let’s say, the marriage certificates: by bride, by groom. Or do they duplicate them and file both ways. Or do they when asked for a copy, just find what they are looking for by going through the entire file from beginning to end.

What I do is the following. I sequentially number each document with a label and place the document into a legal sized manila folder, keeping the folders in sequence as well. Legal sized because many documents are on legal paper, 11 X 17. On the backside of the folder I put the beginning number to facilitate retrieval. Thus the bottom folder is “1″, the next might be “52″, the next “68″ and so forth.

After attaching the label with its sequential number, I prepare the record for Sources in my genealogy software. In that record will be placed the sequential number.

Here is an example.

0051, Marriage Certificate, Emsley C. BOBBITT and Mary. W. RASH on October 11, 1838.  Solemnized by E. M. Earle. From Madisonville, KY Vital Records Department.

Seen above, this is the 51st document or Source record I have (numbered 0051 so that I can handle 9,999 records) and is a marriage certificate of the named individuals.

If the Source is a book in my library, I place the numbered label on a sheet of paper with the name and author of the book and where it is in my library. If I have xeroxed pages from a book, the label goes on the front page of the set and then into the manila folder. If the item is a grandfather’s hammer, a sheet with label is made and includes a description and location of the hammer.

I have a personal rule that for an item to be a Source, I must own and have possession of it or a copy. If let’s say a cousin has and will not share even a copy of an item, I place such information in the Notes of the software to allow for a degree of confidence in the information, but not a true Source record per se.

I have more than 2,000 records. I can find any one of them in 10-15 seconds.


I use a MacIntosh for a computer and Reunion for my genealogy software.

One the most fascinating and useful features in Reunion is the “Ages” capabilities. This routine prepares a list of  important events in one person’s life. The events are birth and death dates of siblings, parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren. Calculations include the person’s age for each event, and day of the week for the event.

Perspective events can be added such as who was President, where the Olympics were held,  music composer’s births, and aviation history. Or one could create their own list of interesting events and have them interspersed with the data about the person in question.

Think about this: One could prepare a reasonably interesting biography of considerable length just from this list. One could also turn the list into a novel very quickly with no other data, just your imagination.

Leaving a Legacy is pretty easy in the Genealogy world.


In an earlier writing entitled “What Becomes A Book” on 14 May 2010 I suggested that after you have created several (as you define) chapters using the PDF format, you should combine the chapters into a book using (1) the expensive Acrobat Pro, or (2) borrowing a copy at Kinkos or a friend’s.

But once again Google has proven its worth.

I searched for “how to combine pdf files” and below are respective sites which came up for both the Mac and the PC.

It turns out that the  PREVIEW software (standard on a Mac) allows one to add a page or pages to a starting document. You merely tell Preview to open the “Sidebar”, found on the top right of the screen and then drag the next document or chapter whereever you want it.

Thus, you might start with a Book Cover, add next a Table of Contents, add next an Author’s Summary. Now you might add the Chapter 1 Cover, and then an Overview of Surname 1 and follow that with Chapter 1. All followed with the balance of the chapters in the same format.

PC users may have a bit more work, but the effort can produce an excellent book, in color, with pictures or graphics as you wish. Duplicating the CD which you would burn creates a most inexpensive book of your Family History..

Here are various sites:

http://download.cnet.com/PDF-Combine/3000-18497_4-10429191.html $60

(but with a size limit of 5MB)

http://www.a-pdf.com/merger/ $27


If you are reading this, you almost certainly have an interest in, or are seriously active with, researching your family history. That is, you are a genealogist or considering to become one.

So, just think. If all of your ancestors had written their autobiographies and added bits of related history from their time as well as their impressions of their parents and grandparents, think how easy your job would be to bring together all of their work into a work of your own.

And remember, there would still be work because when you married, you picked up a whole new set of ancestors related to your children.  (Here, get your spouse to write their autobiograaphy.)

When I talk about autobiographies, I am not talking about publishing them for the world to read. No one would be interested in my life except perhaps for a very, very few old friends and, let’s hope, my descendants. No, I am talking about publishing only for your descendants.

Now if you accept all of the above, why place the same burden on your descendants as your ancestors have placed on you? So, write your autobiography. That way you can leave a legacy and reduce the effort of a future genealogist who will be a child or grandchild.

Allow me to dramatize the point.

Let’s say your great, great grandfather had written the following:
” …… my father was so interesting. In his autobiography he writes that he was born in Maryland in 1734 and in 1774 he and our family loaded up a wagon, hitched two horses and moved along the same trail that Braddock had taken to (West) Virginia. The trail was hard to follow and was always muddy. I had fought in the big war (but more on that later) and ……….”

So …… imagine a descendant in 2050. She puts down your autobiography and says, ” …… my great grandfather was so interesting. For 40 years he drove a fossil fuel burning car to an office in a tall building 20 miles away. He interfaced with a computer by tapping on a letter set device called a keyboard. That is so cool, that he was around when keyboards were still being used …. and yet I see myself in him.”

Think how much easier everyone’s family history writing effort will be – yours and your offspring..


Ancestry.com has purchased over time many of the databases associated with genealogy, providing much help to our community. Those new to the hobby often build a database within Ancestry and either leave it there forever or constantly download Gedcoms to use in their software on their PC. If you leave it there, I would question whether or not you have thought about an end product of your research.

I would like to offer a perspective on the question. While I appreciate there are many reasons to be engaged in genealogy, my reason and hence this suggestion is directed at what I consider the main purpose for the research – to write a book(s) to leave for your descendants that they may understand ‘from whence they come’.

One would never write a book which jumped back and forth between periods of time; for example some paragraphs on employment in 1990 followed by early birth years followed by schooling in 1970. You would not record Census years in random sequence. One would write chronologically.

Information in Ancestry is added by person as posted or found over long periods of time. So you might think you have everything and then someone finds more. The same with your own work. You start with the Internet, you move to Ancestry, you visit a hometown, you return to a hometown and so forth. What you find varies widely by time period. What you find is often written by many people in different styles and with typos and improper grammar.

Thus, when you enter this data into your own database, it should be placed within the Notes in chronological order. The information should be put into grammatical sentences and separated by appropriate paragraphing.

So I suggest maintaining nothing in Ancestry beyond name, dates and places of birth, death and burial and concentrating on your database at home on your own PC. I would download whatever I find and copy/paste or type in my own style that which I find in Ancestry or elsewhere.

And never ever would I load a Gedcom into my own database, but rather into a specially named database and work from Ahnentafels or Registers to place into my own database. No one writes in my style nor do they have the same purpose as I have designed for my descendants.


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