random thoughts · Uncategorized

Your Ancestor’s Life Should Be Enough

One of my family history professors said something really cool in class the other day. She said, “Your ancestor’s life should be enough.”

Out of context, this might seem kind of like a weird statement. We had been talking about family stories or traditions and how over the years, stories tend to get embellished. A burned barn turns into a burned schoolhouse and an adopted ancestor suddenly becomes the Indian Princess. We all do it. And one of the reasons she said that family stories become less and less true over the years is because everyone wants to be related to someone famous. Everyone wants a bit of royal blood in their line.

“But,” she said, “your ancestor’s life should be enough.”

If you’ve read this blog before, then you know that sometimes I can get on a diatribe about how important it is to remember that your ancestors were people and not just names on a pedigree chart. And because I feel so strongly about that, this phrase really stuck out to me.

I recently worked on a project for a class last semester about my ancestor Kate Kendall (you’ll hear more about her in later posts). She grew up in Hertfordshire, England in the late 1800s through the late 1900s. (She lived to be over 90, guys! She’s pretty cool.) She never married and was a servant all of her life. She took care of her blind sister after her parents died. She lived through World War II. But I never found anything particularly amazing about her life. But what is so cool is that she was a real person! And I grew to love her and her family as I researched them. They weren’t “special” people, but they are my ancestors and so that made them important to me.

I’m starting to sound preachy again, so I’ll wrap up this blog post. But I just hope that as we go about our research, we can remember our ordinary ancestors among those who have been written in history books.

Gabby out.

(Sorry no picture in this post. I was never able to find a picture of Kate Kendall, so I figured I’d symbolically leave out a picture in this post.)
Back to Basics

The Importance of Research Logs

Oh my goodness, guys, seriously. Research logs are the BEST. I’m not gonna lie, when I first started out my family history journey, I was so annoyed by using research logs because it seems like such an annoying, extra step that in the end would be a waste of my time.

Guess what? I was wrong.

Research logs are the bomb!

By logging all of the searches that you have done, you can make sure not to repeat any searches you have previously made and you can have information at the ready to help with later searches.

There are several different ways you can do a research log. There are programs like Research Ties (that you must pay for by the way) that can allow you to make a research log. RootsMagic also has a research log function. You can also go a little bit more simple and use Excel or a table in Word. Here’s an example of how I usually do my research logs in Word:

Sam Kendall Log Pic


Regardless of how you decide to create your research log, there are a few things that are necessary for a research log. These are: date, search parameters, which repositories you were searching, your findings (and I recommend getting really detailed here), and citations.

One of the huge things that we have been talking about in my family history classes so far this semester is the idea of analyzing and correlating information from the records that you find. Analyzing the information is basically pulling out all of the relevant information that you can from a document (and sometimes there is more important information in documents than you think there is). Correlating information is tying that information back into the information that you already have. Like making sure that the marriage record you found could be your ancestors based on information you’ve already found in birth records, censuses, and locality research.

Research logs are a great place to do your analyzing–you can put that right in your “Findings” tab. And it is the beginnings of correlation too because you are writing the information into your research log, you are automatically going to start correlating as well as when writing research reports or correlating information for further searches, the information is already right there.

Even though I think research logs are the best, I admit that sometimes I am still really bad at them. I just get going on a research question  with my family and soon I’ve done a million different searches and I have no idea which were good and which led to nothing. So. Together we can work on slowing down a little bit. Enjoy the small details. And we will thank ourselves later.

British Research

The Wonders (and Disappointments) of Civil Registration

As promised, here is the first blog post about British research!

One of the first resources you need to know about with British research is Civil Registration. It started in 1837 and required the reporting of all births, marriages, and deaths. Before 1837, these kinds of vital records (as we call them in the US) were recorded in church records by the parishes. Don’t worry, we’ll talk about parish records a lot, just later. After 1837, they were recorded civilly and the coverage got a lot better as the years went on because fees were attached to not reporting births and deaths.

This all sounds pretty great right? A resource that tells you where someone was born or died and what day. Birth records include parents names (and mother’s maiden name!) as well as father’s occupation. Death records give age at death and residence.

But there’s a catch. You have to pay. It costs £8 to get a certificate mailed to you and it takes about two weeks. The GRO (General Register’s Office) is currently doing a pilot program in which you can pay £6 to get the certificate as a pdf in only 5 business days, which is really nice. So getting certificates can get pretty expensive pretty fast, but luckily the indexes are free and they give you all that you need (most of the time). The indexes list birth year and quarter (the British divide the year into 4 quarters: March, June, September, and December), which registration district they were born in, and mother’s maiden name. The death indexes list death year and quarter, registration district, and age at death.

One of the best places to search the birth and death indexes is on the GRO’s website (gro.gov.uk), but they are also available on findmypast.com and freebmd.org.uk. The GRO doesn’t have marriage indexes yet, but marriages are available on Find My Past and FreeBMD. Here’s an example of searching on the GRO Index:

Civil Registration

There are a few important things to know about the GRO indexes that pertain to your research methodology. The first is that the GRO birth indexes list mother’s maiden name. That means that if there are three Alice Johnsons who were born in Dorchester in 1853, you can use the mother’s maiden name to narrow it down to who your ancestor is. Or, if you know that the mother of your family group had a child, but you have no idea the name of the child or when they were born, you can do a parent search with the mother’s maiden name. Kind of cool.

The second important thing is that death indexes list the age at death. So once again, if you have a lot of people with the same name dying around the same time, but you know when your person was born, you can check to see if the age at death matches with the birth year.

The third thing you want to do is make sure that you have the right volume and page number before you order because otherwise you pay lots of money for something that doesn’t really help you. The best way for me, is to find the entry of the person you want in the GRO index, and then click “Order Certificate” right there so you don’t have to enter any information yourself.

Find My Past and FreeBMD are also really cool and I have found a lot of information that way. (I also recommend searching with at least a +/- 2 years range on the dates.) The biggest thing to remember is that each of these websites have their own weird algorithms for the searches so if one search doesn’t work, try a different search and then head to a different website to see if one of those searches works better on a different site. It’s kind of weird that way, but let me tell you, civil registration is ultimately a blessing. Seriously. Before 1837, you just better hope that your ancestor’s parish records survived and that their parents christened them and didn’t do something weird. And we will talk more about finding parish registers later, so don’t worry. And good luck with your initial, post-1837 research!

random thoughts

After a Long Absence, I Have Returned


Hello everyone!

I know it’s been a super long time since I posted on here (it’s been guilting me on the brain), but this semester has been pretty crazy. Any of you who have been to college will probably remember all the lovely late nights.

But the good news is that because I was so busy, I learned a lot! Which leads me to my next disclaimer: I took British Family History this semester, which means my mind is filled to the brim with British information. So a lot of my blog posts in the next bit will be about how to find records in Britain, with maybe some Back to Basics stuff thrown in for good measure as the ideas come to me.

But I have decided to get back into the game. So here we go.

tips and tricks

Special Collections and Family History


photo from Phototravelography

All over the world there are fantastic treasure troves of old documents, photos, and items. Libraries collect or are donated items from wars, historic events, or even just ordinary people sometimes. The cool thing is sometimes your ancestors can be mentioned in these things.

Most (at least major) academic libraries have special collections somewhere in the mystical depths of their building. And lots of public libraries have them too, albeit probably on a smaller scale, depending on the library.

You can use the library catalogs to search for your ancestors’ names or for types of records or localities. Many special collections also have finding aids that you can use to find documents or items. There is a difference between searching the catalog and using finding aids. Basically, they have different information that is being searched and the finding aid will give you more detailed information on the item’s location.

Most special collections will only allow you to look at the items in a reading room so definitely bring in a pencil and paper or your laptop to take notes. You may even be able to make a copy of a page that you want, for a fee.

So what kind of stuff can you find in special collections? Letters, books, military certificates, newspaper articles. There’s a lot of stuff. A lot of random stuff too. You can use these resources to find relationships, dates of moving or military service, or cool stuff about your ancestor that you didn’t know about and which can help flesh them out as a person.

random thoughts

I’m Not Usually This Cheesy About Family History

I have something to admit.

In addition to not having written a blog post in a long time, I haven’t done family history work in a little while. I got out of classes for the summer and BAM laziness. But I found that I was beginning to miss it.  And, as someone who just started doing family history work a few months ago, it was kind of surprising to me. I had thought that family history was just my major and something that I felt like I should do because my mom and brother do it.

But I missed family history.

And it was even more than that. Because I had tried to look for random ancestor’s parents or find their birth date. But it was so disjointed that I couldn’t even begin to get into it and I just found it frustrating. You know what that means? The organization of a research plan actually works! Because the idea of selecting a family that needs more work done and doing a census survey then vital records and military and land and probate records makes the process seem so much less daunting than if I just dive into trying to find someone’s parents without any context or anything.


So I have a new project. And I haven’t been necessarily the best I could be at doing the research more than once a week because, remember that laziness I mentioned earlier? But it’s been fun. I’m working on a family that was born in Prussia or Germany or wherever the heck it was back then. And there is a missing father.

So I looked at the FamilySearch Research Wiki for their locality, I started looking at what records were already listed on her page, and I conducted a census survey and was able to find them in all of them (except 1890 of course). I’m still in the beginning stages but I’m on my way.

Don’t give up! Use your research processes–they work. Keep on looking for those missing fathers, brothers, sisters, and daughters. You got this.

Back to Basics · tips and tricks

Making Hard Research Easier

A few blog posts ago, I mentioned the FamilySearch Research Wiki and realized that some of you may not know what that is or how you can use it. Pretty much, it will make your research easier by narrowing down what and how to search for records.

The Wiki is available on familysearch.org. Just hover over Search and select Wiki. It is a page that can be edited by anyone, but is monitored by FamilySearch. This is one of the great ways that you can find out what kinds of records are available for the locality that you are searching. It also has tips for areas of research and where to find the types of records that you are looking for.

One of the main ways that I have used the Wiki is to see when vital records were standardized or required for a specific state or county. Because it varies all over the United States (and, I’m assuming, other countries). For example, I had an ancestor that I was researching who died in 1898 in Morgan County, Utah. By looking on the Wiki, I found that death records for Morgan county are available from 1904-1964. So too late for my guy. But it also gives me research hints for pre-1904 and substitutes like the 1870 Mortality schedule.

If you are searching for information on research in a specific area, I recommend that when you are searching the place you add the word “genealogy” after the locality. It will help make sure you get to the correct page. I.e. “Morgan County, Utah Genealogy”

There are lots of other cool kinds of things on here besides just research help. For example, have you ever wanted to conduct an oral interview with one of your relatives to make sure that their stories stick around? The wiki has a page on how to conduct a good oral history interview with some possible questions you could ask and proper protocol.

There’s a page that will help you start writing your personal and family history (something I am a huuuuuggggeeee advocate of thanks to my class last semester). It will help you out with prompts and topics if you are having a hard time starting it up.

The next time you are starting on a research project, go check out the Wiki before you start doing endless searches. It could save you some time if you know that the records don’t exist then so you have to find an alternate way of learning that information.