Thursday, August 9, 2007

Cousins' Weekend

I have 13 first cousins on my Donley side of the family. And while the saying goes "you can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family" -- these are people that I would happily choose!

In 1986, many of "The Cousins" had started to reach adulthood -- they'd finished high school, were either in college or had finished it, and a few had gotten married. The rest were teenagers, just finishing their high school years. One of the places that our extended family had always enjoyed was the Lake of the Ozarks, in mid-Missouri. My parents were renting a condo on The Lake that summer, and thought it would be fun to invite all the cousins for a weekend of water fun. Invitations were sent, and the first "Cousins Weekend" was underway!

We had a small turnout that year, but the word spread of how much fun the ones who did attend had, and the next year the event grew. Over the years our families grew too, as more of us married and started having children of our own.

This last weekend (from Thursday to Sunday), we had the "22nd Annual Donley Cousins' Weekend." One condo doesn't hold us all now! There are ten families who frequently attend, although the number fluctuates from year to year as bigger families mean more people's schedules to work around.

Lots of people have family reunions -- what's so different about "Cousins' Weekend?" I think the difference is the time. Our Donley family is good about getting together as a whole: we have single day "holiday gatherings" about three times a year. And it's nice to see everyone then, but with the big, multi-generational crowds and a couple of hours centered around a meal, you don't have time to do anything but some fairly superficial visiting. During Cousins Weekend at the Lake, we have four days to relax and talk, play and eat together! Over and again, I hear from my cousins that the time is what makes the difference.

The original intent of Cousins' Weekend was to help keep my generation of "first cousin-friends" together. I have to say that my favorite part over the years has been watching the friendships develop between our children (2nd cousins), many of whom are teenagers now. Some of them live close together, and go to school together, but about half have spread out to other cities and states, and this is the only time of the year that they really get to spend any length of time together.

I encourage you to think about planning a Cousins' Weekend for your own family. Find a destination within a day's drive of as many of your group as possible, that has recreation opportunities for you to build a weekend around. For us, it's boating/water activities at the Lake of the Ozarks, but there are great recreational areas in every state in this country! Sharing the living space in condos helps cut the costs for families, but still gives you the privacy of your own room.

The best part is that my children are learning that "family" means more than just the four of us that live in our home....and more than just the eight of us that gather at my parent's house. They have a bigger family that is very real, and is out there....that they are looking forward to seeing again soon!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

50 Years of Memories

It's been more than a month since I've written here. Between the usual end of the school year hubbub and some extra responsibilities due to a family member's injury, I've had my hands full. But "doing" for family, and actively participating in taking care of each other is is infinitely more important than writing about it! (She writes with a smile).

Mixed in with all of May's reasons to celebrate (end of year banquets, school award ceremonies, Mother's Day, birthdays, etc.) was a very special anniversary this year: my parents' Golden Anniversary. With all of the headlines and news blips talking about divorce rates, it's especially gratifying to celebrate a marriage that has not just lasted, but thrived for fifty years!

Mom and Dad requested not to have a big reception this year, so we celebrated with a special family dinner out at a nice restaurant, with the happy couple surrounded by their children and grandchildren.

Trying to come up with some lasting keepsake to give them, my brother and I came up with the idea of putting together a coffee table photo book for them. Since there are lots of different companies that will publish a photo book for you, researched several of them, and settled on "My Publisher."

With "My Publisher," I could download their software to my computer, and then work with their templates to choose a style of book, and from there, style of page that I wanted to use. My brother and I combined all of our photos on one computer, and then sat down together to work on the project.

As each page came up, we could look at the photos in front of us, and decide how many to put on the page, and then choose the layout that best fit the photos. Some of the photos warranted their own page, and others we put in groups of two to four. We chose never to use more than four on a page, although the software allowed for more. In my opinion, more than four pics on a page made it start to look more like a yearbook, and the individual photos harder to see. There was also room to add captions if we so desired.

The project took Mike and I several hours (okay, make that all day) to complete. However, if we were just working on one vacation's worth of photos, instead of working our way through a lifetime of memories, it would have gone much faster. No matter how you look at it, it was truly a labor of love, and we had a great time doing it.

Since Mike has high speed Internet access, he took the finished project home on his computer, and uploaded it to "My Publisher" from there. This was on a Monday. "My Publisher's" information states that they will have the book ready to ship in four days or less. We paid for overnight shipping, and received the finished product on Friday afternoon, four days later.

In case you are thinking about doing a similar project, here are my thoughts about this company.

Ease of Use: Great! Very intuitive.

Customization: Pretty good. You can choose from three basic styles of books (paperback, hardbound, or deluxe), and there are a couple more options to be decided once you make this first choice.

Finished Product: Beautiful! We paid a few extra dollars to have a dust jacket, and it was well worth it -- it looks very professional. We also chose to use a black background to the pages, and it gives it a very "artsy" look, and makes the photos stand out. Since we were heavy on the photos and light on words, this worked for us.

Price: Not Bad. There is a base price for the first 20 pages, and then you pay so much per page beyond that. We incurred extra charges for the dust jacket and for shipping, which was all well spelled out.

Downside? We only ran into two "hitches." One was the fact that although the project can be saved on your computer, it doesn't actually save the photos again, it just saves their locations on your computer. Because of this, we were unable to save the project as a whole onto a disk or thumb drive, so we could transfer it to another computer. That was a bit limiting for our purposes, but we worked with it. The second "hitch" that we ran into was when portions of the "My Publisher" website were down on the day we were trying to upload the project to them. Their website clearly states that the only way to contact them is via e-mail....they are not available by phone. Several hours later they did have the problem fixed, and our project was able to be uploaded to them, but it did cause us some momentary concern.

The last caveat that I would mention is that the overnight shipping option we chose required a signature. I did not realize that at the time (although it may have been spelled out, I'm not sure)....and thankfully, I was there to sign for it. I would have been very disappointed to have missed the delivery, since it arrived ON their anniversary! (Yes, we should have started this project a couple weeks earlier!).

Happy Anniversary, Mom & Dad. You two are a great example of a couple who has not only stayed married, you've stayed friends! We love you!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Conflicting Sources

For whatever reason, happily I have had several researchers contact me this spring, wanting to compare notes and share information. Sometimes six months will go by without any new contacts, and then all of a sudden, things start to pick up! No complaints's definitely a good thing.

Yesterday I was pleased to see a message in my inbox from a fellow BENNETT researcher. This is one of my husband's lines. One of his great-grandmothers was a BENNETT, and I've followed her family line from either Virginia or North Carolina (depending on the source) through Kentucky and finally to Boone County, Missouri. The researcher I heard from said this migration pattern looked familiar, and wondered if I wanted to compare notes.

In preparation for this, I took a harder look at my BENNETT file. Over the last couple of years, I've been moving my census data from the "General Notes" section of each individual's page to "Events" section. This works well with Legacy, and I like the way it prints out in my reports. While looking at my BENNETT file, I saw that I still had the censuses in the "Notes" area, and I proceeded to "clean up" the file, and put everything where it belonged. I have also obtained some new source material since I last worked on the BENNETTs -- books on Boone County MO marriages and cemetery records, as well as the Missouri Archives website with death certificates online. So it seemed like a good time to see if I could fill in some blanks. That's when I found a major conflict.

According to one source ("Tombstone Records of Boone County, Missouri, by Mrs. E.E. Evans and Mrs. J. F. Thompson), Page and Matilda BENNETT both died in 1867. According to Evans and Thompson, Matilda died in January of that year, and Page in June. However, this seems unlikely, since I have census images of them appearing in the 1870 U.S. Census, in Cedar Township, Boone County, Missouri! My guess is that their headstones were hard to read, and that Mrs. Evans or Mrs. Thompson misread the stone. I tried to find their stone (or stones) in the Nashville Baptist Church Cemetery, but didn't have any luck -- I'll try again another day.

Meanwhile, I'm making a list of other sources I could use to try to find accurate dates of death for this couple. I don't believe Boone County, Missouri has death certificates for that time period, but I will check on that. I believe they do have probate records, so that's one avenue to try. Another option will be to search the Newspaper Library for obituaries -- it's possible that the month and date information are correct, but just not the year. Either way, it looks like I've got another mystery to solve!

Monday, April 16, 2007

To Keep or Not to Keep...(what was the question?)

Don't we all love photos? I have albums full of photos, and a trunk in my house full of photo envelopes containing the prints of all the pictures that didn't qualify for album status. The vast majority of those photos were taken with a 35MM camera -- and I've always subscribed to the theory that you have to take a whole lot of pictures if you want to get a few that are "keepers." So why do I have so much trouble getting rid of the ones that aren't?

To be fair, many of these pictures aren't bad -- they just weren't the cream of the crop. It's easy to pitch the blurry ones, or the ones with someone's head cut off -- but it's harder for me to cull out the rest of the prints: the "also rans."

This box is also the place that I store all the photo Christmas cards that my family members have sent me over the years. Someday I may pull those out and create an album just for them. It would be fun to look through the album and compare how these family photos have changed over the years.

Sally Jacobs has a great blog called The Practical Archivist. I like the advice she offers and the no-nonsense way she presents it. Recently she's posted a couple articles on the value of printing our photos, as opposed to storing them only on our computers or other digital media. As wonderful as this digital age's changing so fast! A few short years from now we may not be able to count on being able to access the information that we have stored on CDs or DVDs. Properly stored, paper will last for many many years...and is the safest way we currently have of making sure that future generations can view the photos that we hold precious today.

I love my old Minolta 35MM camera -- it feels great in my hand, and the photos it takes are top-notch. But my Nikon coolpix digital camera is working great for me too. And the luxury of being able to tell right away if I have something worth keeping is one of the best parts of digital photography. Thanks to Sally's articles, I'm going to be more diligent about printing out my "keepers" though -- they are too special to risk losing!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Unexpected Benefit

Over the years I've put my family trees "out there" on various websites...mostly on Rootsweb, but I have a Family Tree Maker website, and I think some of my information is available on's World Family Trees. I've also been pretty diligent about putting queries on as many county and surname message boards as I can -- trying to reach lots of potential connections.

I'm a big fan of this type of networking -- I really believe that it pays off, and my own experience is that it does. The shortest time that I ever heard from another researcher/cousin was 30 minutes after I posted (WOW!), but often it's been months, and sometimes years until I hear from someone.

Over the last two weeks, I've been fortunate to hear from three "new" cousins, researching some of the same family lines that I am. I'm always excited to hear from anyone who is looking for the same ancestors I hear from three is pretty unbelievable.

After we exchange "how do you dos," we usually agree to share information. Inevitably, as I look over my information, I find that I have gaps that need filling: census data that needs to be added or information from my files that never was inputted. While I'm taking care of this "clean up," I usually do a search on Heritage Quest Online to see if any "new" data is available on this family line -- and if so, I get that information added as well. Pretty soon, the family file in question is as complete as I have sources for, and I'm ready to create a report to share.

It's not unusual for some of the new information (or maybe just my fresh eyes looking at it) to reveal a new clue to be followed, and that's always exciting. Meeting a new cousin and getting a new "research buddy" is great -- the unexpected benefit is that it gives me a good reason to get an old family file back in "new and improved" shape!

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Easter Calculator

With Easter coming up this Sunday, it seems like a good time to mention this web page: Holidays On the Net. This site has dates and lots of fun information about all the different holidays throughout the year. But the feature I like best is it's Easter Calculator. You plug in the year, and it responds with the date that Easter fell on that year.

This is handy when trying to figure out the date of old photos, or references to Easter in newspaper clippings, church newsletters, etc. I was given a snapshot of my husband as a child, lined up with his sisters on what was obviously Easter morning -- they were decked out in the Easter finest. The photo developing company had stamped 1965 on the bottom of the print...but the Easter calculator gave me the actual date: April 18, 1965.

As I mentioned before, they have fun information and activities for holidays all throughout the year -- so browse for a while, and enjoy. I hope the Easter calculator is as useful for you as it was for me!

Monday, April 2, 2007

Making Connections Through a Trip to the Cemetery

My kids are pretty tolerant of my passion for genealogy, but they don't share it. Although I would love it if one of them would "catch the bug," I'm not holding my breath. (grin)

I do, however, want them to understand the connection that we have with those that came before us. Since my husband's family has lived in our area for more than 150 years, one of the ways I plan to do this is with a trip to a few of the local cemeteries.

Using my genealogy software, I'm able to make a list of all of my husband's direct ancestors who were buried in our county, categorized by the cemetery in which they are buried. This list contains about 30 ancestors, buried in about six different cemeteries in our county.

On a nice weekend this spring, I plan to take my kids and this list, and together we'll go "visit the ancestors" and put flowers on their graves. If I increased the list to include the siblings of my children's direct ancestors, then we would need to bring enough flowers to put on over 80 graves! I'll have to give that some thought.

While we're placing flowers on the graves of all the parents who came before, I'll try to share with my kids what I've learned about each one: what they did for a living, where they came from, how many kids they had, what wars they fought in, and anything else I can find out that will help bring their stories to life. I don't expect this to make much of a difference that day, but hopefully it will create a memory that will stay with them through the years. And when they hear someone mention Samuel Hackmann or Sylvester Pauley, maybe they'll remember this day, and feel a connection to the ones who came before.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Memories of Mickie

After wondering for the last day or so what my next blog post was going to be about, I found inspiration in a post on Dear Myrtle, entitled "Influential Grandmothers." Myrtle encouraged her readers to take the time to write down a few recollections about their own grandmothers. I'd like to start with my mother's mother, Mickie.

Mickie was born Margaret Anne Keller, on July 1, 1919, in St. Louis, Missouri. She was the daughter of Edward Adam Keller and Margaret Elizabeth Wrede Eifert Keller. She was Ed's only child, but she was the fourth child of Elizabeth, who had three children from a previous marriage: Julia, George and John Eifert.

Although she was named Margaret, after her mother, she was given the nickname Mickie by her Aunt Mary (her father's sister), because she liked Mickey Mouse so much.

I remember her telling me stories about her childhood. Her mother tried to be the disciplinarian, but her father spoiled her. She learned to drive sitting on her father's lap when she was just 11 or 12 years old. Ed and Elizabeth had moved to Belleville (St. Clair County), Illinois by that time, and they owned a confectionery. Elizabeth ran the store, and Ed was a barber. Unfortunately, Mickie's mother died when Mickie was just 14 years old. Although there's never a good time to lose a mother, I know that Mickie's teenage years were rougher than ever because of her loss.

She married my grandpa, Orville Creal Wilson on October 1, 1936. They went to Waterloo, Illinois, and eloped. Starting their married life during the depression made them appreciate all that they earned over the years. Mickie told me that in the early days they just ate the vegetables and fruits that they raised. They lived in the city, but their little four room house had an acre of ground, on which apple, pear and apricot trees grew. They also had an asparagus bed, gooseberries, blackberries and a large vegetable garden. Once a week Orv's parents would bring them bacon or meat, and they usually ate that on Sundays.

Besides her family, Mickie had two loves: dogs and growing flowers. All the time I knew her, she always had at least one dog, and usually there were two or three. She inherited a love of growing flowers from her mother, Elizabeth. Mickie enjoyed growing flowers from seed, and watching them bloom and multiply. She had a real knack for that -- and even managed to grow a California Sequoia tree in her yard in Belleville, Illinois (from seed!).

In 1957, Mickie was in a car accident that nearly took her life. Thankfully she survived, but unfortunately, one of her legs did not, and it had to be amputated below the right knee. The hospital she was in was a Catholic hospital, and conforming to the doctrine of the time, her amputated leg was embalmed and buried. Mickie had a wonderful attitude about her "disability." She always said that she "literally had one foot in the grave!" Her acceptance of the loss of her leg and her decision to not let it stop her from living her life to the fullest led her doctors to ask her to tell her story to other new amputees over the years.

When I was four and then again when I was six I spent a week in the summer with my grandparents. My grandpa had not yet retired, so he was working during the day, but Mickie and I would go all over St. Louis sightseeing: watching them build the St. Louis Gateway Arch, visit Grant's Farm, the St. Louis Zoo and Shaw's Gardens. She took me to the beauty salon and got me my first "permanent wave." We went shopping, and she let me wear her costume jewelry!

One of the other things she enjoyed doing was crafts -- she had a creative flair. Over the years she must have made hundreds of Christmas ornaments, and she also crocheted beautifully....especially the little fine crochet-work, like on the edges of dresser scarves and handkerchiefs. One of my favorite heirlooms is a lovely hand-crocheted tablecloth that graces my dining room table year-round.

My grandfather Orville was the love of her life -- and they were married 59 years when he died in 1995. Mickie lived until 2000, but I know she missed him every day of those last five years. She loved telling family stories -- in fact one of the best gifts she ever gave me was filling out the "Grandmother's Memories" book I gave her one Christmas. She filled in all the blanks, and then wrote in the margins, too...packing it full of all the memories it would hold. I treasure them all.

Among the life-lessons I've learned from Mickie are these: 1)Don't take yourself too seriously: nobody else will! 2)Bad things happen, but you can get through them if you try hard enough. 3)Enjoy the beauty in the world God gave us. 4)Don't pass up a chance to pet a dog!

Thanks, Gramma. I love you.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Illinois Online Databases

If you've been trying to search the online databases on the Illinois State Archives website over the last couple days, you've probably seen the dreaded HTTP 404 page: Web Page Cannot Be Found.

I called the Illinois State Archives this morning to see if anyone could tell me what was going on, and found out that they are in the process of changing servers, and have experienced problems making the switch. I was assured that they are actively working on it, and that the databases should be available as early as this afternoon....but if not, then for sure in the next day or so.

Illinois has some great information in their online databases. I use the marriage and death indexes the most, but they have a very comprehensive list of military databases as well. I have been so appreciative of them making this information so accessible that I'm more than willing to be patient while they solver their server problems.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Brickwall: Wilson

I was puttering around in my genealogy the other day, not sure which direction to go, when I received an e-mail from a "new" cousin. Bob had either seen my database online on Rootsweb or one of the several messages I have floating around the message boards...but either way, he contacted me suggesting that we were probably searching for the same people. It's always nice to have someone to research with, so I was glad to hear from him.

The couple that our mutual family line seems to stop with are Cornelius Wilson, born about 1823 in Kentucky and Jane Boyd, b. about 1822 in Ohio. They were married in 1841 in McLean County, Illinois, but lived in the county next door, Tazewell County.

We find the couple in Mackinaw, Tazewell County, Illinois in the 1850 census, with three children:

C. Wilson, 27, M, Farmer, KY
Jane Wilson, 26, F, OH
Mary E. Wilson, 5, F, IL
Alex'r C. Wilson, 2, M, IL
Jane Wilson, 2/12, F, IL

Six years later, Cornelius died, and is buried in Hardscrabble Cemetery, in Deer Creek Township, Tazewell County.

In the 1860 census, Jane appears, still in Mackinaw Township, Tazewell County, Illinois:

Jane Wilson, 34, F, $75-Personal Estate, OH
Mary Wilson, 15, F, IL
Alex. Wilson, 12, M, IL
Caroline Wilson, 9, F, IL
Wm. E. Wilson(twin), 7, M, IL
Emily Wilson(twin), 7, F, IL
Franklin Wilson, 6, M, IL

In 1862, Jane Boyd Wilson married Obediah Hall, in McLean County, Illinois. What become of Mr. Obediah Hall is currently still a mystery to me...however he does not appear on the next census (1870), although it appears that he and Jane did have a child together:

Hall, Jane, 45, F, W, Keeping House, $200-Real Estate, $100-Personal Estate, OH
----, William, 18, M, W, Farm Laborer, IL
----, Franklin, 16, M, W, Farm Laborer, IL
----, Grant, 5, M, W, IL
Sullivan, William, 2, M, W, IL

William and Franklin above are listed with the last name of "Hall", but their surname is actually they are children from Jane's first marriage to Cornelius Wilson. William Sullivan, age 2 listed in the 1870 census is the son of Jane's daughter Mary, who I believe married John Sullivan in Tazewell County in 1866. I have not located Mary or John in the 1870 census yet.

We know that daughter Emma (the twin) married Mark Asbury Short in 1867 in Tazewell County. My "new found" cousins that contacted me and got me working on this family again descend from Emma Wilson Short. We also know that Mary E. Wilson Sullivan eventually settled in Bloomington, McLean County, Illinois. She shows up in Normal, IL in the 1880 and 1900 censuses, and in Bloomington in the 1920 and 1930 censuses. Although the 1900 census claims that she has six living children, William is the only one that I can connect with her. There may well be other Sullivans out there that connect to this Wilson line, but I haven't located them yet!

Like all genealogical puzzles, every time you get an answer, you find at least two more questions! Here are mine:

1. Did Obediah die before 1870? If so, where is he buried?
2. When and where did Jane Boyd Wilson Hall die, and where is she buried?
3. What became of Mary E. Wilson Sullivan's husband John, and the rest
of her children?
4. Where in Kentucky was Cornelius Wilson born, and who was his family?
5. Where in Ohio was Jane Boyd born, and what about her family?

Obviously, there is much to be done here, and I love a good puzzle!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

New Images: The Iowa State Census announced last week that they have digitized and indexed all of the "readily available" Iowa State census records between 1836 and 1925. Living in "next-door-neighbor" state Missouri, I thought that was good news. I knew I was bound to have the occasion to use this resource at one time or another. That occasion just came sooner than I thought!

I was contacted a few days ago by a researcher from Iowa who was studying the surname KUNZE, which is one of the collateral lines in my HACKMANN research. Not having spent much time on the Kunze line, I took a couple of days to get "up to speed." In the process, I found that some of the Kunze's had moved from Warren County, Missouri to Cass County, Iowa. This gave me my first reason to check out the new digital census images on

What a pleasant surprise this was! The first year that I needed was 1915. Expecting to see a typical census page with entries for multiple people, it was surprised to find it in the form of census cards...apparently one for each person. It contains all the usual information that you'd expect to find on the census: name, sex, race, age, birthplace, marital status, occupation, etc. There were a few additional details that I didn't expect. It asked for the total earnings for 1914, and the extent of education, breaking it down between "Common", "Grammar", "High School" and "College." One last item that is helpful from a genealogical standpoint is the question about "Church Affiliation." The answer is typically a denomination, but especially of the person in question is living in a small town, that information gives us a great clue as to where to look for any church records that might be helpful. The only downside I saw to this system is that you have to wait for each person's individual card image to's not possible to look at a whole family at a glance like you can with the "ledger" style of census'. Still, it's a great resource to have.

Next I looked for this person in the 1925 census. What a goldmine! The depth of information provided on this census is unlike any other census I've ever seen. We're used to scrolling across one line on one page for information about one person. But on the 1925 Iowa state census, each person's line stretches across as many as three pages! In addition to the "usual" information collected on censuses you'll also find mother's maiden name and father's full name, their birthplaces and the year of their marriage. Although it's not unusual to find a question about military service, the 1925 census has columns for three wars: the Civil War, the Spanish American War, and the World War...and asks veterans not only which war they served in, but which branch of the service, and what state they enlisted or were drafted from. Great information!

I haven't had the time or the reason to check out the earlier Iowa state censuses yet....and although they aren't as complete as the 1915 ad 1925, it's great to have a resource to pinpoint your Iowans between the Federal censuses. If you have Iowa ancestors and access to, either at home or through your library, I urge you to investigate this. It may open some previously closed doors.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Surname Forum

This is either a good recommendation, or a shameless plug. You'll have to decide which one for yourself!

A few years ago I started a Yahoo! Group called Surname Forum. I was looking for a place that was surname focused, where you could touch base with other people who were researching the same surnames you were. Not finding such an spot, I set up a Yahoo group, and a Surname Database that everyone could access and add to.

It started off a little slow, but the group now has over 1200 members, and almost half that many surnames listed in the database. When a member adds a name to the database, they add
1) the name of the ancestor they are looking for,
2) any pertinent dates and locations
3) specific information that they are hoping to find
4) their contact information (usually an e-mail address)

The reason I chose the database format is because of how easy it is for new group members to see at a glance if any of "their" names have been listed on the site. Of course, people can (and do) post "who I'm looking for" messages frequently, and that's great too.

One of the nice surprises that has developed from this group is a wonderful sense of community. We have a number of people that voluntarily spend their time helping anyone who sends out an "S.O.S." It's refreshing and heartwarming to see. It just goes to show -- if you are a real "genealogy buff" it doesn't matter whose family tree you're working on. The enjoyment comes from putting the various pieces of the puzzle together....not from whose picture the completed puzzle shows!

If you are looking for a little help with *your* genealogical puzzle, would like to add your "brick walls" to our Surname Database, or if you just want another online genealogy hangout -- stop by Surname Forum. We'd be glad to have you!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Fun Genealogical Fiction: Torie O'Shea Mysteries

There are lots of fun "genealogy" based works of fiction out there, but my favorite is Rett MacPherson's series of "Torie O'Shea Mysteries." Torie O'Shea is a genealogist in a small predominantly German town in Missouri. She works at the local Historical Museum, and her genealogical activities usually have her on the hunt to solve various mysteries that crop up.

I enjoy the mild humor and the down to earth characters. In each book we find Torie, her husband and children, her wheelchair bound mother and the local sheriff, who is married to Torie's mom. There is also a great "supporting cast" of local friends and neighbors that carry over from book to book. As a heroine, Torie is likable, plucky and irreverent.

The picture that MacPherson paints of a small Missouri town of German heritage is very familiar to me. Although "New Kassel" is fictional, it could easily be based any of the typical little German towns that line the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.

The list of Torie O'Shea Mysteries is getting longer:

1997 Family Skeletons
1998 A Veiled Antiquity
1999 A Comedy of Heirs
2000 A Misty Mourning
2002 Killing Cousins
2003 Blood Relations
2004 In Sheep's Clothing
2005 Thicker Than Water
2006 Dead Man Running
2007 Died in the Wool

I started with Family Skeletons, and have worked my way down the list. I just checked out Dead Man Running from my local library, and am looking forward to starting it. They are definitely light reading -- but I enjoy the genealogical references, and watching Torie use her research skills and resources to solve each mystery.

If you have any favorite genealogy-related fiction books, please leave your recommendations in the "Comments" section below.

Enjoy the books!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

News from Northern Ireland

If you have ancestors from Northern Ireland, I just found a website that you might want to check out. It's called Eddies News Extracts.

Eddie Connolly started the website on the premise that some of his best genealogical information came from the interment notices that appeared in the local papers of the time. As a way of passing on his good fortune, and having web space available, he decided to transcribe and publish more of them. And, as these things are likely to do, it has grown from there. {smile}

Although there is (at present) a modest amount of information on this website, it's presented well, and is nicely indexed, making information on your surnames of choice easy to find. I've put a reminder on my genealogy program's "to-do" section, so that I won't forget to check back with Eddie's site to look for updated information.

Thanks, Eddie!

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Keeping Track of My Genealogy Contacts

One of the best resources I've found in "Genealogy Land" is the Message Board. I have benefited greatly from the friendships and "acquaintanceships" (is that even a real word?) made from the various message boards that I frequent. People have helped me fill in gaps, and been generous enough to share e-mailed copies of photographs, marriage certificates, letters and even their own research.

Of course, as my list of contacts grows, so did my need of finding a way to keep track of these wonderful people! They started off just as additions in my e-mail address book, but that just didn't give me enough information for the long haul.

What I've done is create a spreadsheet that I call my "Genealogy E-Mail File" (catchy, isn't it?). It's very simple: just four columns: Name, E-Mail Address, Family Line, and Comments. If I were corresponding with these people via "snail mail," I'd probably add a mailing address column, too -- but in general, my contact with these researchers is strictly via e-mail.

The "Family Line" heading is the surname that we have in common. Under "Comments" I make any notes that will help me in the future. Most often that is the name of the ancestor that they descend from, but sometimes it's the fact that we haven't found a connection yet, but I've promised to contact them if I do find a common thread.

I'm sure that most genealogists have some type of similar system -- or possibly a much better one -- but this one has worked for me so far. The camaraderie within the genealogy circle is one of the best parts of this business. I'm so grateful for what these nice people have shared with me -- if/when I break through one of our common brick walls, I sure want to be able to find them to share the news!

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Extra! Extra! Check out a Newspaper Library Near You

One of my favorite resources is my state's Newspaper Library. It's part of the State Historical Society of Missouri, located in Columbia, Missouri. They have over 41 million pages of Missouri newspapers on microfilm! These are available to be viewed at the library, or can be borrowed through Interlibrary Loan Service.

Nowadays we live in a very transient society -- but my husband's ancestors came to Boone County, Missouri anywhere from 100 to 185 years ago. So much of their history happened in one place. I can go to the Newspaper Library, and pick up any microfilm reel of the local Boone County newspaper, and probably find some mention of one of his ancestors in it. Sometimes it mentions the "big news," like births, deaths or marriages -- but often I'll find mentions of horses for sale, or out of town visitors, or local activities that they were involved in. If the vital statistics of our ancestors are the "bones" of our genealogy, then the information in these little day-to-day articles "put meat on the bones."

In doing a quick Google search on "Newspaper Library" or "Newspaper Collection" I found that many U.S. states have similar collections. There are also digital newspaper collections available online. Missouri has the Missouri Historical Newspaper Project that is free, but and both have subscription sites, with large digital collections available. With a little research, you may be able to find access to the newspapers your ancestors read. What a treat!

Happy Hunting!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Substantial Increase in NARA Photocopying Fees

I saw in Dick Eastman's Blog today that the National Archives has proposed a major increase in their fees for photocopies of their records. Although many of the increases are substantial, most of them are reasonable, in my opinion. However, they are proposing to increase the fee for a Full Pension File copy (over 75 years old, from the Civil War Period) from $37.00 to $125.00 -- a 338% increase!

I've looked at this from a variety of viewpoints, and I just can't convince myself that this is justified. I realize that some of the Full Pension Files are lengthy, and that the postage costs alone are substantial, but to charge $125 for a Civil War era file regardless of whether it contains a dozen pages or 100 is bad policy.

I'd feel much better if the costs were more closely tied to what you received. Why not charge a reasonable flat fee for the research and then charge so much per page for copies and pass on the actual postage costs?

I understand that NARA is accepting public comment on this proposed change until April 27, 2007. Let's be sure that our voices are heard on this!

Happy Hunting!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Genealogy Vacations

Genealogy is my passion, but my “real job” is that of a travel consultant. I help families plan their vacations. So the idea of combining these two loves of mine is a “natural.” Here are a few tips to help your research trip/family vacation be successful:

Plan in advance: If at all possible, plan your trip several months in advance. This gives you time to research ahead of the trip, and to order/receive anything that will help make your trip go more smoothly.

Study Up On The Ancestors: The first thing to do is research as much as possible about your ancestors in the area you are visiting. The more information you gather ahead of time, then the better your list of questions to be answered or documents to look for will be.

Study Up On The Area: Next, learn all you can about the area you will be visiting. Pour over maps of the area, so that it will feel familiar to you when you arrive. Find out what resources are available to you in the area, like libraries, courthouses, churches, cemeteries, archives, historical societies, local genealogical organizations, etc. If possible, contact these resources before you go – to find out what their hours are, what days they are open, and what rules they have that might apply to your research. Sometimes libraries and archives have their genealogical materials listed on their website, so you can have your list already made out before you go. If not, then it’s a good idea to give them a call, explain what you’re looking for, and make a personal contact. Those personal contacts can make all the difference in a small community! When you get there, try to follow up and meet your "local contacts." It's very possible that these people will become your new friends, and even if that doesn't happen, it's nice to build some good will.

Check in With the Message Boards: And speaking of locals, I’ve found that asking for trip advice on the county Rootsweb message board is very helpful. Many of the most active participants on a given county’s board or mailing list will be local, or (or at least used to be!). They can give you directions to cemeteries, advice on local motels and restaurants, and even activity suggestions for the rest of your family to do while you’re researching!

This brings me to another important point: BALANCE. If you are traveling by yourself or with a research-buddy, you’ll probably be happy spending each and every day in front of a microfilm reader or tromping around cemeteries, but if this is a family vacation, chances are not everyone else will! Check out the area for other sightseeing opportunities or activities to enjoy. Include downtime in your schedule! For ideas, check out the state's tourism website. Most states will send you a free vacation planner -- and that will give you some ideas of what's available for the "non-genealogy" days.

Packing List: I’m sure you’ve seen this list before, but here’s a list of things you want to be sure to bring with you:

  • Digital Camera, with extra memory cards, extra batteries and the charger.
  • Laptop Computer or PDA with Genealogical software: Both, if you have them. The laptop is great to have in the evenings for entering your information as your find it. But the PDA is handy to take with you into libraries, courthouses, etc. It fits in your pocket so when you get up to move to the stacks or the microfilm room, you don’t have to worry about the security of your computer.
  • A Good Mapping Program. I use Microsoft Street & Trips, but there are others that you might like as well. Many of the mapping programs now have GPS features that could come in very handy. For European maps, I've been pleased with Multimap.
  • The Usual Cemetery Gear: Old shoes or boots, long pants, water bottles (both kinds – the kind you drink, and the kind you squirt on headstones), insect repellant, and sunscreen.

There are lots of good tips that I haven’t covered yet, but I’d be interested in hearing yours! If you have a favorite genealogy trip suggestion that you’d like to share, please leave me a comment.

Happy Hunting!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Ancestral Angels

Have you ever felt that your ancestors were guiding you or giving you a helping hand in your research?

There have been many times that I've asked for their help when I'm up against a particularly tough "brick wall," although usually they are stubbornly silent. But there have been a few times that I've followed a lead on nothing more than an unsubstantiated hunch, and been gratified to find that it paid off. And one special instance where a whole sequence of events had to be timed just right for the payoff to happen -- and it did!

My father's great grandparents were Henry Donnelly and Jane Mullin, and they are one set of his immigrant ancestors. Henry and Jane came to America around 1860 from what is now Northern Ireland -- he from a little township called Derryscollop and she from Tullyrone, both in County Armagh. I'm lucky enough to know that because 30 years ago, another family researcher acquired a copy of their marriage license and shared it with us. In addition to naming the townlands that Henry & Jane were from, the marriage license also provided us with the name and location of the church in which they married: The Church of Moy, in County Tyrone (just across the river from County Armagh).

Two years ago, my family took a cruise around the British Isles, and one of our port stops was in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Since we had the whole day free, we decided to hire a couple taxis to take us to County Armagh, so we could see what the countryside of our ancestors looked like. We told the taxi drivers that we didn't know much: only that our ancestors were from Derryscollop and Tullyrone, and that they had been married in the church of Moy, in County Tyrone. The Belfast taxi drivers hadn't heard of Derryscollop or Tullyrone, but they knew where Moy was, and they were up for the adventure!

After arriving in Moy, we stopped at a little pub -- because our driver told us that this was the best place to get information. He said you'll often find "old-timers" there, who will know where the little townlands are, or where they were. The barmaid pointed out the Church of Moy to us -- just down the street (the church is pictured above). It was late on a Sunday morning, and church was still in session, so we didn't go in. We did take some time to explore the cemetery behind the church, however. Soon church was over, and shortly thereafter, the assistant vicar (a Mr. Anderson) came out to see who was wandering around the cemetery. He was very welcoming of our little group of American tourists, and asked us what names we were looking for in the churchyard. When we mentioned "Donnellys from Derryscollop" he lit right up! The vicar said that he knew a Donnelly family that still lived in Derryscollop -- and that it was such a tiny place, that there HAD to be a connection. He insisted on leading us to the Donnelly house, and then making introductions to Edwin Donnelly, the elderly gentleman who lived there. What a wonderful surprise!

Of course, this was a family vacation, not a research trip, so I didn't have my genealogy information with me. From memory I tried to think of all the Donnelly names and dates that I could share with Edwin. He made connections instantly, and it just took a few minutes to figure out that his grandfather and my dad's great-grandfather were probably brothers. Edwin's son was also visiting, and he offered to take us down the road a bit, and show us where the old Donnelly house was, where our immigrant ancestors had lived in the early to mid 18oo's.

It was an amazing, surreal experience. To start they day off thinking that we might just enjoy seeing the countryside of our forebears, and finish it off meeting our closest living Irish relative! Had our ship not been scheduled to visit Belfast on a Sunday, then we quite possibly wouldn't have met the assistant vicar of the Moy church. And of course, without his help, we wouldn't have found our Derryscollop Donnellys. I just couldn't shake the feeling that the whole day was being orchestrated by some wonderful "ancestral angels."

Some may call it coincidence, but I think "serendipity" is more like it. Thank you, thank you, Henry & Jane!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Frugal Genealogist

“I didn’t know that genealogy was going to be such an expensive hobby!” If you’ve frequented any genealogy message boards or mailing lists over the last few years, you’ve heard something similar. It’s an understandable refrain…the genealogy websites that get the most press (, most frequently) often do come with some pretty hefty price tags. Not to mention the costs involved in ordering birth, marriage and death certificates from various local entities…or pension records from the National Archives. The list goes on and on.

But two thoughts come to mind. The first is that most hobbies (obsessions?) require a financial investment, as well as an investment in time/effort. I have a golfer in my family who always needs to “upgrade” his equipment…all for the sake of improving his game. Scrap booking is one of the newer hobbies on the scene today, and having purchased scrap booking supplies as Christmas gifts, I can attest to the fact that they aren’t inexpensive either! The point is that if you are going to get serious about any hobby/activity – it’s probably going to cost some money….and after a while, it will probably cost some more.

That brings me to my second thought. There is a world of really great resources out there that are (mostly) free! Some are online, and others are in our communities. Here are just a few:

RootsWeb: What a great resource! It’s owned by the same parent company as, but is a free/user contributed resource. There are message boards and mailing lists that are wonderful. I have gotten farther in my research due to help from others on Rootsweb’s message boards than I could have ever gotten on my own. And along the way, I’ve met some “new” cousins, and made some wonderful friends. We often start with the surname boards, but I’ve gotten some of my best help from people who frequent the “county” boards. Rootsweb is also the home of some amazing user-contributed databases. These databases are sorted by country/region, and include cemetery records, deeds, newspaper indexes, church records, etc.

Heritage Quest Online: This is a subscription-based website, but is often available free to library patrons through library websites. I access it via my library’s website, after logging in with my library card number. HQO has five sections: Census, Books, PERSI, Revolutionary War, and the Freedman’s Bank. In each case you can find information and often images that can be downloaded and printed right at home. They have the complete set of U.S. Census images (1790 – 1930), with name indexes for many of the years. The images are generally very clear and easy to read.

I’ve also been impressed with the “Books” section, which includes over 20,000 family and local histories. It’s as if your local library had an additional 20,000 genealogy books on their shelves, and you can read them at home!

USGenWeb: The volunteers who produce this website are dedicated to providing free genealogy websites for every state and county in the U.S. Each of the county and state websites are maintained by volunteer coordinators – so the content is different, depending on the time, talents and expertise of the local coordinators, and how active the local genealogists are that submit data for the sites. Commonly you’ll find local history, maps. User-contributed records, links to genealogy libraries and societies, and sometimes surname lists/queries.

County Genealogical Societies: While not free, membership in county or regional genealogical societies can be very worthwhile. The society for the county in which I live has dues of only $15.00 per year – and the quarterly newsletters (often 25-30 pages in length) are worth that alone! People that live nearby also enjoy the monthly educational programs. It also allows me the chance to network with people who are researching the same area (and sometimes ancestors) that I am.

State Archives: As far as I know there is some type of a “state archives” or “state historical library for each of the states in the U.S. After you’ve gotten a start on your research, you may find that a visit to the appropriate state’s archives will provide you with many more answers (and maybe some more questions, too!). Although access to the archives will probably be free, you’ll need to bring money for photocopies of the records you wish to keep. Many states also have some of the information from their archives available online – sometimes in the form of indexes, and sometimes in the form of actual images. Well worth investigating!

Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness: What a great organization! The volunteers agree to do a research task in their local area, at least once per month. You can find volunteers who will take photographs of tombstones or do look-ups for you, depending on their resources. Although the service is free, you are expected to reimburse the volunteers expenses, such as film, photocopies, postage, and possibly parking fees. Still a bargain! Many of the volunteers signed up after being helped by RAOGK, and wanted to “pay it forward.”

There are many other great (and inexpensive) resources out there. This wasn’t meant to be a comprehensive list – just a few good options that I use regularly. And of course, no matter where you get your information, please weigh it carefully, consider the sources, and document them well. Message boards, mailing lists and user-contributed databases and family trees are only as good as the research that supports them. We all know that there is a large amount of misinformation floating around the web. While that research can’t be automatically assumed to be true, it just might point you in the right direction

Happy Hunting!

Friday, February 9, 2007

Deciphering "Old" German

One of my recent undertakings is working on my church's Historical Committee. The committee's job is to take the mostly disorganized records that have accumulated over the last 114 years and create a Church Archive. Since one of the original seven founders of the church was an ancestor of my husband, this has been more of a genealogical pleasure than a chore! I get a little thrill every time I open up a box of ledgers and find the entries full of familiar names.

As the original members of the church were the children of German immigrants, and they lived in a fairly isolated area, as a rule, they only spoke German. This continued until sometime during or shortly after the first World War. None of the volunteers in our group speak or read German, so trying to decipher enough of the early records to even figure out what they are has sometimes been a challenge! We tried copying down the words and then using a German/English dictionary to look them up, but the handwriting (although beautiful) was still difficult to read.

I recently stumbled across a website that has been very helpful! It's called Omniglot, and here is a link to their German (Deutsch) page. What I found so helpful about this site is that it gives examples of the various alphabet scripts that have been used in the German language over the years, with English equivalents. The "German handwriting" style used at that time was called Sutterlin script -- and although it somewhat resembles the English alphabet I grew up with, enough letters are different to make it a real challenge! Having a "key" to the letters has been a real boon. For instance, finding out that what we thought was a lower case "f" was really an "h" has made a big difference in our translation successes!

It would still be a lot easier if at least one of us on our committee could read German (one of us does have plans to take classes). We do have resources in our area, and someday we'll undoubtedly arrange to have someone transcribe the old German texts for us...but in the meantime, this website has helped us decipher enough to be able to catalogue the record books!

Happy Hunting!

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Missouri Death Certificates

Kudos to the Missouri State Archives for the Missouri Death Certificate Project they have undertaken. They have indexed the death certificates for the years 1910 - 1956, and that index is available online via the Secretary of State's website. Even better, they are in the process of adding digital images as well. Images are available (free! in .pdf format) for 1910 - 1930, and 1950 - 1956. They must have quite a team of people working on this, because I've been amazed at how quickly they have been uploading the images.

There is so much valuable information available on death certificates. I'm proud of Missouri for making this information available, at a time when so many other states are reducing the access that we have to such records.

You can access the Missouri Death Certificates database here.

Happy Hunting!


Everything has it's beginnings -- and this post is one of mine. From the time I was eleven or twelve years old, I knew that family history held a special attraction for me. I've always felt a connection to some of my ancestors, and find it fascinating to learn more about their lives, families, work, triumphs and hardships.

My plan for this blog is for it to be a place to share news, ideas and maybe even make some connections that will help us all further our research.

Happy Hunting!