Feed on

Research into one’s family history or genealogy is first of all fun and adventuresome. But it is also hard work. Let me discuss how the hard work can be made much easier than one might imagine.

Do you remember how Tom Sawyer got his fence painted much faster than his Aunt Polly thought he could? He got all of his friends to help. You should try to use the “Sawyer Effect” in your research.  That is, involve as many people as you can to help.

Before starting, make sure you have a computer and genealogy software and know how to use both reasonably well. (What’s the point of collecting data if you have no place to store it for later use)?

First. go into your attic and have your siblings go into their attics and pull out all family history items which can be found. Search these items to see if anyone else has performed some research or noted the names of cousins, uncles, aunts of whom you are unaware.

Second, start a spreadsheet or paper list of those identified listing name, address, telephone number, e-mail address, surnames they care about, and so forth.

Third, send a Family Group Sheet (FGS) with instructions to all of your known cousins, aunts and uncles. My next posting will include a sample letter  or e-mail one can use to transmit the FGS. Ask each addressee to identify other related cousins and relatives. I would guess when I started I knew the names and addresses of less than half a dozen; I ended up with over 300 Bourlands. (The other lines or related surnames I have never counted).

Fourth, learn to use World Connect at http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/. When you identify people on this site researching your surnames, copy their addresses (which are on the top of the page in gray) onto the spreadsheet you created in Step 2 above. Contact them and ask if they would be interested in exchanging data.

Fifth, learn and use Rootsweb at http://rootsweb.ancestry.com/. First of all sign up to receive current queries for your surnames. Next, review all queries on your surnames. Be sure to explore the “archives” for each of your surnames. Again, copy the names and addresses and contact those researching your surnames.

Sixth, near the bottom of any correspondence whether e-mail, letter or otherwise, place your version of the following: “I am researching the following surnames, please let me know if you can help: Bourland, Bobbitt, Cardwell, Flagg, Frost, Rice, White ….. “. Keep adding to this list as you learn grandmother names, but make sure the list is always in alphabetical order.

Seventh, when you make contact with a cousin  – or someone who has a relationship however remote with a cousin – ask them to send you a Register Report with all of their Notes. Also, ask them for the names and addresses of any others they may know who are researching your surnames.

Eighth, determine either by a personal visit to, or from a County web site, if a list of all people searching your surnames is available. Some counties may not have such a list, but many will. Once again, put them on your list and contact them.

Ninth, find using search engines if your family has a web site devoted exclusively to it.

Tenth, search for your surnames in Google, Bing, Clusty and other engines.

While I say to my classes they should shoot for 2-300 names of Colleagues, I should say 900-1,000 and would if I thought they would not scare easily. You will be surprised how quickly this list will grow.

You will also be surprised at how quickly your research progresses.


I found an article in the recent winter 2010 Volume 11 issue of the American Ancestors (which until recently was called New England Ancestors). The magazine is published quarterly by the New England Historic and Genealogical Society (NEHGS). The article was by James R. Miller and entitled Philatelic Genealogy Update. The article was a followup to one in the 2009 Volume 10 issue entitled Philatelic Genealogy: Old Envelopes, Postcards, and Immigrant Origins.

Mr. Miller, an American, has spent the better part of the past several years in Haguenau, France researching his own families of the region, which is near Strasbourg in Alsace Lorraine. His wife has written 10 books on the area, while he has performed major and innovative research. He also runs the web site Philgen.org. That site has many envelopes and postcards which contain or infer genealogical information. Mr. Miller takes each contributed and accepted item and attempts to provide a tie-in to a Census, Ancestry.com family tree or other data. Often the effort identifies an immigrant ancestor’s birthplace, a family’s migration after their arrival or the location of siblings.

These old envelopes and postcards exist in many seldom reviewed boxes in our attics, on E-bay and other auction sites,  and with stamp collectors.

Give philgen.org a try. It is an unique source of possible genealogical information.


This is a rant, but I assure you not a political rant. It is a rant on wasted effort and money.

All genealogists rely heavily on Census records. The Census is federally mandated every ten years. Its data may not be released to the public for 70 years after that. Thus, the 1940 Census should be released this year.

The 2010 Census is a total embarrassment and waste of money. It boils down to two questions: Who are you and are you a Latin; and who else is in your household and are they Latin. Let me here disclose I am not personally a Latin, but I am married to a Uruguayian, and my two sons are married one to a Brasilian and one to a Cuban.

I consider the 2010 Census an out and out Liberal attempt to insure proper gerrymandering and capture of the ever expanding Latin population. Why?

Here are some prior Census data questions and imagine what you would have
designed had you been on the design committee for this Census.

Example questions from prior Censuses, still useful:
Relationship to head of household
Age or birth year
Place of birth
Own home or rent
Radio (TV), how many
Place of birth
Mother place of birth
Father place of birth
Year of immigration

In other words, this expensive effort could have provided both the government and genealogist with considerable useful information had it been designed properly.


An earlier posting suggested the Public Broadcasting System(PBS) series Who Do You Think You Are as a worthwhile dive into genealogy as seen through the eyes of famous people in entertainment, such as Meryl Streep, Sarah Jessica Parker, Yo Ma Ma and Eva Longoria Parker.
I am coming back to this now having seen several of the series with high enthusiasm and to share some thoughts.

First, the series is really not about these famous people, but rather how little they knew about their ancestral background and in many cases the impact such findings had on their self-image. An example: Sarah Jessica Parker (who admittedly overacted a bit here yet ended as a motivator) always considered herself an 1800s European Jew. But by tracing her background from Ohio to the gold rush in California she found her family had been in this country since 1635 and even participated in a famous historical event – the Salem witch trials of 1692.

Another example: Eva Longoria Parker of television’s Desperate Housewives. Her background is described on Wikipedia as a Mexican American born in Texas. The PBS research offered a remarkably different picture. Her family was Spanish (as are many Mexicans) living in Mexico and in 1610 (as I remember) was given considerable acreage in a Grant by the Spanish King for land in what was Mexico but now the United States. Eva’s people got to our country before the Mayflower!

Meryl Streep determined her forefathers had founded Pennsylvania as a State in 1607, to her complete surprise.

The point of all the research on this wonderful series is to suggest several thoughts:
•    In many cases we are not who we think we are nor do we come from where we may think;
•    You must travel to where your family originated or moved to locate  some truly mind-opening data, the Internet will not do it all;
•    Genealogy is hard work, but both fun and exciting – especially when you locate a serendipity which changes the course in your mind of the family’s history.

If you are lacking in incentive to dig deeper into genealogy, this series should be a real motivator for you.

If you missed earlier showings, you may find them at http://www.nbc.com/who-do-you-think-you-are/video/episodes/#vid=1206958.


Gary Minder of Poulsbo, WA  has created and offers for free incredibly useful spreadsheets for some of the most important genealogical data we will find  in our research. He requests a small donation, but the utility far exceeds any cost. His work can be found at http://www.censustools.com/

Gary says: Ever try entering extracted census data into your genealogy program’s primitive text editor? The mess and frustration led me to create my first spread­sheet in 2001 so I could elec­tron­i­cal­ly preserve my data in an easy to view format. 40+ free genealogy spreadsheets later, CensusTools continues to grow, providing researchers with quality creations to electronically record, preserve and archive family history data.

Record and Analyze
Using a spreadsheet is a great way to record your genealogy data in a format similar to the original source. All of my census spreadsheets faithfully reproduce actual census document formatting, providing you with a professional appearing product suitable for printing or including in your published family history. CensusTools spreadsheets are also valuable analysis tools. The Tracker series allows a researcher to analyze all available census data for an individual on a single worksheet! At a glance and in a very professional appearing report, you can trace the important aspects of your ancestors’ lives. Your pile of census data, difficult to analyze and evaluate scattered about in a pile of extraction sheets, comes alive when properly organized! Continue Reading »


Who Do You Think You Are? begins Friday, March 5, 2010 at 8/7 Central on NBC.

Share a heartwarming journey through family history with Sarah Jessica Parker, Emmitt Smith, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Broderick, Brooke Shields, Susan Sarandon and Spike Lee as they discover the stories of their ancestors.

Who Do You Think You Are? also shares ideas and research strategies that could help you make new breakthroughs — and help people everywhere understand what they could discover about their own family stories. We hope you’ll invite your friends and family to watch the show
on Friday nights at 8/7 Central starting March 5, 2010.


The following are 10 excellent sites for exploring an African-American heritage:

1. AfriGeneas

2. The USF Africana Heritage Project
This all-volunteer research project and Web site sponsored by the Africana Studies department at the University of South Florida works to discover records that document the names of slaves, freedpersons and their descendants, and share them online.

3. Freedmen’s Bureau Online
The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, generally referred to as the Freedman’s Bureau, was established in the War Department by an act of March 3, 1865 to supervise all relief and educational activities relating to refugees and newly freed slaves. On this site you can find many reports and documents generated by the Freedman’s Bureau, including labor records and marriage records, as well as a comprehensive overview of the Freedman’s Bureau history, the Reconstruction Era, labor contracts and other aspects of African American life after Emancipation.

4. American Memory Collection
This huge collection of documents, photographs, sound recordings, maps, and other records related to African American history and culture is an essential starting point for those interested in learning more about their African American heritage. Continue Reading »


« Newer Posts - Older Posts »