Scott County Genealogical Society, Inc.
Georgetown, Kentucky

Established 1983



Genealogy Tips and Techniques Archive

Note: Use of trade names in this section does not constitute an endorsement of the product by the Scott County Genealogical Society.


First of all, Merry Christmas to all our SCGS members and visitors. Here's wishing you the very best of holiday experiences and memories! There's an online source for genealogical information that you might have ignored, because it's not the first thing that comes to mind when you're ancestrally challenged. That resource is YouTube®, the online video-sharing website that's been around since 2005. According to Wikipedia®, the three former employees of PayPal® who developed YouTube® sold it to Google® less than two years later for a whopping $1.65B (that's B, as in billion). So what exactly is available on YouTube® for the genealogist looking for help? Hundreds of hours of instruction from companies like Ancestry.com®, FamilySeacrh.org®, and Fold3.com®. There are video blogs from some of the best-known speakers on the genealogy circuit like Amy Johnson Crow, Lisa Louise Cooke, and Judy Russell (the Legal Genealogist). You'll encounter videos by Thomas MacEntee, Denise Levenick, Mark Lowe, and Pat Richley-Erickson (DearMYRTLE to those who don't know her real name). The major genealogy software companies (Legacy Family Tree®, RootsMagic®, and Ancestral Quest®) also have a presence on YouTube® with many hours of instructional help, tips, and how-tos. I subscribed to the Brigham Young University (BYU) Family History Library Channel on YouTube®, and I get a weekly email announcing any new genealogy videos that become available. You can also post your own videos on YouTube®, and it doesn't take a full production studio to do it. The camera on your smartphone will work just fine. So if you discovered a new way to search for vital records online, or want to share your methods for breaking down a brick wall, YouTube® can be your stage. During the holidays ahead, why not take some time to explore this great genealogy vault of information and see what YouTube® can offer you. 12/04/16 TRB

When one mentions November, the talk usually turns to Thanksgiving memories of family and friends gathered around the table to share turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, dressing and all the "fixins" as my grandmother used to say. Thanksgiving is one of our most anticipated holidays because it brings families together to share stories, to meet new family members, and certainly to remember those who won't be at the table this year. But in November we also celebrate Veterans Day, a special day each year when we recognize the people who have served in our Armed Forces. It is one of our more though-provoking holidays because hardly a family has not had someone who served his or her country during peacetime or war. Our day of remembrance traces its roots to 1919 when President Wilson spoke of the gratitude our country shared with the European allies at the end of World War I. From a genealogical perspective, Veterans Day reminds us to search for the roles our ancestors had in military service. Military draft records can be found in several paid and free databases such as Ancestry.com®, Fold3.com®, and FamilySearch.org®. These records are especially valuable because they contain information such as dates of birth and birthplaces, and in the case of immigrants, their country of birth. You'll also find employment data and possibly the names of spouses and addresses. Often overlooked on draft records are the physical description of each registrant, their height, weight, and color of hair and eyes; these might be clues to where some of your physical traits come from. Fold3.com®, originally known as Footnote.com® when it began in 2007, fell under the Ancestry.com® umbrella in 2010; it has gained the reputation of being the go-to website for military records. But full access comes at a hefty price; the premium membership is $79.95/year, but they do offer monthly access for $7.95. And Fold3.com® does offer a free basic membership with access to free records only, and many images appear to be free to view. I found U.S. Navy records mentioning my father when I searched ship logs and manifests from the World War II era. Military records, like many other scraps of information, help us to know more about our ancestors so we can preserve their stories for our descendants. 11/06/16 TRB

Many of the ideas for these tips come from postings in the various Facebook® groups devoted to genealogy or history. (There are over 10,000 of these groups at last check; check here for the current list.) Most of us have encountered examples of spelling errors, wrong names, or wrong dates in documents we've found online. This frequently happens in census records and in birth and death certificates, but you'll find errors in many other types of records, too. The reason that most of these errors occur is plain old human error. Consider the example of census records. At the top of each page of the census is the name of the enumerator, the person conducting the door-to-door data inquiries. (I've actually found census documents where my relatives served as administrators.) Respondents replied to questions asking for names, ages, birth locations, occupations, etc. What the respondent said, and what the enumerator heard, could have been entirely different, for example Helen and Ellen, or Robbie and Bobby. Errors can also be introduced by the indexer in transcribing census records for database development. An indexer may have spelled Kathy or Katherine as Cathy or Catherine, or written an age as 19 when it was 17. (If you have ever participated in an indexing project, thank you!) But it's easy to make a mistake that can cause future researchers lots of headaches. Draft registration cards for WW I and WW II also contain spelling errors. Registrants reported to the draft board offices and would state their names to the board clerk. The clerk would write or type the registrant's name, gather other facts like ages and dates of birth, and the registrant would sign the card. Many mistakes occurred. When you encounter incorrect data in your research, accept it as a challenge and attempt to find the truth. Document the reasons why you believe a fact differs from what you know may be the truth. You'll become a better researcher, and your records will be more accurate. 10/01/16 TRB

Many genealogists are packrats. And that includes me. There, I've admitted it. Sometimes when I look at the things I've collected over the years I wonder why I kept them, why they were important to me at the time. But the main credo of a packrat is, "if in doubt, save it!" Thus the multiple boxes in my closets, in the garage, under the beds, etc. After reading various blog posts and articles about simplifying storage solutions, I realized that they definitely applied to me. My first project has been scanning photos and other paper documents and saving them as digital files which don't take up physical space. If you're looking for a simple first step in solving your own storage dilemma, scanning might fit the bill. There are several types of scanners, and I've tried them all. Flatbed scanners are easy to use and connect to your desktop or laptop computer. They're great for photos of all sizes, and can handle large paper documents, too. An all-in-one printer-scanner-copier is another option; like flatbeds, they connect to your desktop or laptop. They produce quality scans which you use for archive purposes. The third option is portable scanner like the Flip-Pal. It's a perfect choice for copying small pictures (4X6), and larger photos and documents can be copied and "stitched" together using included software. Most smartphones can also be used to scan photos and documents using free scanning apps. Other options are handheld wand and mouse-style scanners; I've used those in the past, but they're a bit hard to handle and don't produce consistent scans. Obtaining a quality scan is only part of the process; you also need a storage solution. Digital images can be stored on your computer's hard drive or on one of several external storage devices like flash drives, external hard drives, or optical storage discs. Some of these options are less permanent because they're subject to deterioration over time. Cloud storage is what many genealogists have turned to for reliable, secure, and cost-effective archiving. Some are free, others charge a modest monthly or annual fee. Services such as Dropbox, Carbonite, and Backblaze are leaders in cloud storage services. The tools are out there...don't be afraid to use them. Scanning old photos provides reliable archiving results and will reduce the clutter, too. 09/03/16 TRB

I watched a webinar recently that was offered by the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). The DPLA is a free public portal that allows visitors to search the digital content of numerous libraries and museums throughout the country. I was introduced to DPLA at RootsTech held in Salt Lake City this past February (see comments about DPLA in the March 2016 Tips and Techniques). The recorded version of the webinar is currently available online at this link. During the broadcast, co-presenter Tamika Maddox Strong presented some tips for using DPLA. One of her tips caught my eye, and I wanted to share it with our website visitors. Her tip was, "Be prepared for the good, the bad, the ugly and the unbelievable. Keep an open mind about what you learn. Take history as it is." I'm sure many of us have uncovered things in our research that our families never discussed. Until I started researching my paternal line, I never knew, nor would I have ever imagined, that my second and third great-grandfathers were slave owners. According to one reference I stumbled upon, they owned nearly two-thirds of the slaves in the county where they lived. I also discovered that another one of my great-grandfathers committed suicide, and that another close relative died from complications of alcoholism. Talk about the bad, the ugly and the unbelievable! But those findings have been offset somewhat by a few good things I've learned about my father's military service, a grandfather's mission to improve safety in coal mines in Kentucky and West Virginia, and another grandfather's efforts to improve commerce in a small Kentucky town. I've seen marriage records of some family members who were as young as 15 when they tied the knot; I've seen cases of girls as young as 13 appearing in county marriage books. Times were different in the early 1900s; young marriages were more common than they are today, infant mortality was higher, and the overall quality of life more challenging. It's not fair to judge our ancestors based on the mores of a century ago. Their values and customs were different. That's what Tamika Strong was referring to in the DPLA webinar when she cautioned viewers to "take history as it is," and not judge those who came before us by today's standards. Of course I have to wonder what people a hundred years from now will think when they see digitized pictures of their ancestors with green or purple hair, or sporting multicolor body art, or intricate body piercings! Genealogy is an interesting and rewarding hobby, but don't be upset about the things you might discover along the way. 08/01/16 TRB

Most genealogists love cemeteries, and summertime is perfect for exploring them. The hallowed ground connects us with our ancestors in a way no other resource can. The stones can tell stories; they provide facts, dates, and family connections. Here are a few tips for visiting cemeteries, whether they are local, out in the country, or even miles away. Never go alone. There are many uneven places to get hurt. A second person is often needed to help find an elusive tombstone or assist with taking pictures. Take a phone. In case of injury or unwanted encounters with angry landowners, you might want to contact EMS or police for assistance. Clothing. Wear protective clothing: long sleeves, long pants, a hat with a brim, and a pair of gloves. Sometimes rubber boots are necessary. These accessories will protect against sunburn, poison ivy, bug bites and snakes. Supplies. Take a clipboard to write on, equipped with a legal pad, and a few pens and pencils. A few other accessories to keep in your cemetery kit are a whisk broom and soft bristle brush, some water in a spray bottle, and a digital camera. Cleaning a stone. The first rule of any cemetery sleuth is do no harm. If you encounter a tombstone that’s dirty and hard to read, use the whisk broom or brush to clean it—gently, of course. Lichen or moss can be removed with water and a soft stick. Do not use shaving cream or any other chemicals you might have read about in magazines or blogs. Definitely avoid harsh detergents, bleach, and chalk. Remember, do no harm. Photographing the stone. Try to position the camera so that the tombstone fills the viewfinder, and avoid distorting angles that can impair the photograph. Time of day is important; shadows are more pronounced during early mornings and late afternoons. Take extra camera batteries with you. Tombstone transcriptions. Include the location of the cemetery; use GPS coordinates for exact location. Most smartphones have GPS capabilities. Write down all the information on the stones. You might want to use a cemetery transcription form like the one found on our website. Copy all the narrative on the stone; pay attention to special marks or insignia. Check all sides of the stone; don’t miss anything. Cemeteries can provide valuable information about our relatives; visit them often and help preserve them for future generations. 07/02/16 SG/TRB

We rarely repeat our monthly Tips topics, but I just came across some additional information about a subject we addressed in September 2012, and that’s the DD Form 214, Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, issued to every veteran who retires, separates, or is discharged from active military duty. The form contains a gold mine of information that you may not discover in traditional genealogical sources. You’ll find dates of service, the branch of service, rank, military awards and decorations, and type of discharge. The form also contains personal information such as date of birth, service number, and home of record at time of entry to active service. You can read our previous tip in our Tips Archive. I recently discovered that some veterans file a copy of their DD Form 214 in their County Clerk’s Office. Some services even encourage personnel to do this as part of their separation briefings. According to the website DD214.com, filing the DD Form 214 with the County Clerk’s Office can help veterans in several ways, “but the most important thing is quick access to your DD Form 214 should you need another replacement copy some time in the future.” It normally takes two weeks or longer to get a replacement DD Form 214 from the National Archives, so having a copy available locally in case of loss or theft can save time and headaches. Maybe you’re not a veteran, but perhaps you had an ancestor or family member who was. So if you run into dead ends in your research, you might want to check with your County Clerk’s Office to see if your elusive ancestor might have filed his or her DD Form 214. Note that there may be privacy issues to overcome depending on the state involved, but hey, we’re genealogists, and all of us have encountered hurdles in our research, so what’s one more! And if you do need to order a discharge certificate from the National Archives, you can find instructions here. Military records are a wonderful source of information in genealogical research. 06/01/16 TRB

Many recent postings on genealogy blogs, websites, and social media groups have stressed the importance of writing down family stories to be shared with future family historians. That's good advice any way you look at it. At RootsTech, the largest family history event in the world held this past February, the emphasis was on sharing family stories and connections across generations. Those stories do three things: they document your family history, bring your ancestors to life, and help you and others understand where you came from. As well-intentioned as many of us are, we often don't do this, or even think about doing it, until it's too late; until our connections to the past, our parents and grandparents, pass away. My maternal grandfather died when I was three years old; I remember him, although vaguely. I knew my paternal grandfather for a longer period of time; I was eighteen when he passed away. Both of them were interesting people, polar opposites in terms of education and life experiences. But they both worked hard, raised families, cared for their needs, and most importantly perhaps, contributed to who I am today. How I wish I could have just one day with them to ask about the things they went through, their beliefs, their good times and bad. They were long gone, as were my grandmothers, when I developed my interest in genealogy. If I had that "just one day," I'd ask my paternal grandfather how and when his grandfather died, facts that have eluded me for years. I occasionally find clues to these mysteries, when I least expect it. I recently found my great-great grandmother's obituary when searching through the Library of Congress Chronicling America newspaper database. She died in 1894, but her obituary said that, "her husband and four children survive her." I now know that my paternal great-great grandfather was alive in 1894. My maternal grandfather was a coal mine superintendant; I would relish the opportunity to ask him about the severe conditions miners faced (and still face), and the mining tragedies he witnessed and how he dealt with the families of the miners who died. The point I'm attempting to share is that we should take every opportunity to talk to our older relatives NOW and record the stories that will help our children and grandchildren to know more about us and others who came before them. Those stories are important; they're a part of who we are. 05/01/16 TRB

In reading through the comments in the Genealogy Chit-Chat group on Facebook®, I noticed that someone posed the following question: "Does anyone else feel bored when they are going through a dry spell and can't find any information?" Great question! I think many of us have had that feeling. But in my case, it's not so much boredom as it is guilt. I know that when I need to take a break from my research, I'm overcome by a strong sense of guilt. There's an inner voice that keeps pestering me, urging me to get back to the books, the court records, the old newspaper archives, or the photos that need to be digitized and filed. Although universal in its reach, genealogy can mean different things to each of us. Are you the type who wants to know every library book your ancestors might have read? Or how much Great Uncle Harry paid to have someone dig the well? If you're that focused, then obviously your research will take you deeper into the records than someone who is just happy with knowing birth, marriage, and death dates. Given these two examples, is either one of these people a better genealogist? Although I might hear arguments to the contrary, I don't think either person is more worthy of the title than the other. If your research takes you in a direction that uncovers an interesting family fact, then make a note of it and its source in your records so you can find it again in case you discover something else that substantiates or contradicts it. Don't dwell on it unless you feel you have to. Each of us is drawn to genealogy for different reasons. Let your research take you to the sources you explore, but keep in mind that you don't have to read every book or study every ship's manifest to find a relative. Enjoy what you're doing, and don't be afraid to take a break from your research. Try to avoid the feelings of boredom or guilt that might try to overtake you; when that happens, you're no longer in charge! 04/02/16 TRB

I attended RootsTech 2016 in early February, my annual pilgrimage to the Mecca of Genealogy, Salt Lake City, Utah. From its start in 2011, RootsTech has grown to be the largest family history event in the world. As usual, I built in some time to visit the Family History Library prior to the conference. I'm pleased to announce that the Library is undergoing some renovations that will add technology and storage enhancements to a facility that is already stretching its seams with information on our ancestors. If you've never had the opportunity to visit Salt Lake City, the Library alone is worth the trip. The RootsTech conference itself was packed with instructional sessions on topics too numerous to count, and featuring some of the best speakers on the genealogy circuit. I had the opportunity to hear FGS President Joshua Taylor talk about the importance of local genealogical societies. We often take our society resources (its members and their experiences) for granted, yet they represent valuable assets that we can use in finding information about local families, businesses, and residences. Taylor stressed that with the Internet, we can communicate with societies around the globe. Emily Gore, Director of Content for the Digital Public Library of America, discussed some of the 11 million items that can be accessed through the DPLA web portal. According to their website, DPLA is a "free public resource that allows researchers to search the collections of almost 1,800 libraries, archives, and museums around the country all at once." Searching the DPLA, I found information on H.C. Tinsley, MD, an African American physician practicing in Georgetown in the early 1900s. He and his wife Lottie, a school teacher, lived on Hamilton Street according to the 1910 Federal Census. A copy of the 1886 Sanborn Map of Georgetown is also available on the DPLA website. If you've ever tuned in to a Legacy Family Tree® webinar, you've met Geoff Rasmussen, host of the signature online series. Geoff presented a hands-on session about Google Photos® and showed his audience (and yes, the seminar room was packed) how to manage, search, enhance, and preserve digital photos. As genealogists, we love photos, and because of Geoff's presentation, I now use Google Photos®, a one-stop service that offers facial recognition, GPS location, and unlimited image storage for free (yes, free). In addition to the 200-plus informational sessions during the conference, the Expo Hall offered space for over 150 exhibitors and interactive booths. If it's related to genealogy, it was there! The big players were there (Ancestry.com®, Family Search®, and My Heritage®) and so were the not-so-famous displaying their products, services, and ideas. If you ever get the chance to attend a future RootsTech, jump at the opportunity. It's a worthwhile venture, and you won't be disappointed! 03/01/16 TRB

Winter rolls on, but thankfully I’m spending part of it in the warmer climate of coastal South Carolina. I’m a stone’s throw away from the ocean, but I still find time to keep up with my genealogy research, thanks to free wifi; it’s a bit slow at times, but I can live with that. This month’s topic is the cost of our hobby (some call it a passion, or a nuisance, some even call it an addiction). Years ago, pre-Internet, we grabbed pencils and notepads and went to our local libraries or state archives. We took notes — tons of notes, filled out family group sheets, timelines, and pedigree charts. We filed reams of paper in cabinets, boxes, and three-ring binders. Genealogy was an inexpensive hobby. Today, things are different. We have laptop, desktop, and tablet computers; portable and flatbed scanners to copy documents; digital cameras that help us document cemeteries and ancestral homes; multiple database subscription services like Ancestry®, Fold 3®, and others. Let’s not forget the webinars, local and national conferences, and other diversions that command our time and money. While we can spend a small fortune on our research efforts, one true bargain remains — our genealogy software. Tips readers may recall that we’ve discussed genealogy software in previous postings. Just last month we mentioned that the software field has been reduced by Ancestry’s® decision to stop selling its popular Family Tree Maker® package; they plan to support the software for another year, but that could change, too. Two of the leading products, Roots Magic® and Legacy Family Tree® seem to be picking up ex-FTM users. Both of these products are available for $39.95, full versions. Some posters on Facebook® think that price is unreasonable; for sure you’d pay more for dinner at a decent restaurant or a couple bottles of wine! . (Free versions are also available but have reduced capabilities.) Genealogy is no longer an inexpensive hobby, but it won’t drain your savings either. You really don’t need every new tool that hits the shelves. Pay attention to what others are using. Ask questions at your society meetings; check out the genealogy groups on Facebook®. Free information and help are available for the asking on numerous online forums, genealogy blogs, and content providers. Don’t pay for it if you don’t have to! 02/08/16 TRB

Happy New Year to all members and Tips readers! As I write this month’s tip (mid-December), I see the genealogy world reeling over Ancestry’s announcement that after umpteen years, it’s pulling the plug on its Family Tree Maker® (FTM) software. Not until I jumped on the Facebook® bandwagon did I realize how many people actually used FTM, and what a loyal following the software has (or had). Looking at the Ancestry or the Technology for Genealogy Facebook groups, you’ll see hundreds of posts, positive and not, from FTM users. Many of the not-so-positive comments have to do with FTM’s demise; people feel betrayed that Ancestry would make a business decision so drastic. What they don’t understand is that all company decisions are dollar driven. Software comes and goes, and the genealogy marketplace is no exception. I started my genealogy research in the mid-1990s using Family Origins®, a product written by Bruce Buzbee and first marketed by Parsons Technology in 1991. Family Origins was discontinued in mid-2003. I then discovered Personal Ancestral File® (PAF), a free program distributed through FamilySearch. PAF met my needs, and I used it for several years until its end in 2013. The point of this brief history lesson is that when software is discontinued, it’s not the end of the world. Choose another program, import your data using a GEDCOM file transfer, and get on with life. All genealogy programs on the market today will serve you well; the loss of FTM, although a favorite of many family researchers, is merely a bump in the road. Take a look at some of the other programs out there; Legacy Family Tree®, Roots Magic®, and Ancestral Quest® are just a few. These three have free and paid versions; download and try the free versions before making your final decision. Or look at other software options like Gramps®, Heredis®, or MyHeritage Family Tree Builder®. In fact, it wouldn't hurt anything to use two or more programs on a continuing basis; this would provide a degree of insurance should one of those programs, like PAF and FTM before them, be discontinued in the future. A good New Year's resolution would be to explore the many software options available to us as genealogists. 01/01/16 TRB

Merry Christmas to all who stumble across these genealogy tips and techniques on the SCGS website. This isn't an official blog, so we really don't track the "hits" we achieve; our only goal is to share some ideas that our members have found while conducting their own research, with the hope that we can help someone else. In a previous tip (April 2014), we discussed adding logical filenames to photos and other documents to enhance future searches. For another tip that can help your file organization, read on! If you attach media files (photos, documents, recordings, etc.) to records maintained in your genealogy software, try to standardize where those files are located. For example, if you use Legacy Family Tree®, create a folder called Legacy Media or something similar, and place a copy of the file in that folder, and link that file to your database records. You can organize your media files by creating subfolders, such as Legacy Media/Smith for all files the pertain to one family. The key is to have one place to go to locate the file(s) you need. You may have photos and other documents hiding throughout your hard drives; putting them in one place within a logical file structure will improve your research efforts. And of course, once you reorganize your media files, don't forget to make backup copies of those files so in case the inevitable happens, you can restore lost files from the backup. You are making backup copies, aren't you? 12/01/15 TRB

Friends and families get together on Thanksgiving Day to share their stories, to catch up on the events of the past year, or to remember those who won't be at this year's gathering. Thanksgiving get-togethers, like summertime family reunions, are a perfect time to talk to people, especially older relatives, about the things they remember while growing up, about their parents and grandparents, about the black sheep of the family (we all have those, don't we) about marriages that didn't work out...the list goes on. Before your holiday events, contact invitees and ask them to bring pictures or documents that they can share with others. You can scan those pictures with a small portable scanner like the Flip-Pal® and make copies instantly so others can have the same pictures. (Don't forget to bring extra batteries and memory cards; you'd hate to have to find an open store on Thanksgiving Day to replenish your supplies.) Not everyone in your family is going to have an interest in genealogy, and that's okay; but you can use a holiday gathering to talk to others and explain why family history is important to you. Take along a laptop or tablet loaded with your genealogy software so you can show relatives how they are related to each other, or how common ancestors might have helped mold them into who they are today. By talking to others, you may find a clue to help find a missing link in your own research. And of course you'll need to follow-up on your discoveries to prove (or disprove) them. Never let an opportunity pass that could help you in your genealogical research. 11/01/15 TRB

You might think this tip doesn't have a lot to do with genealogy, but it does. Most of us use a computer to track our family history, and major improvements recently can make your tasks easier. TRS-80®, Osborne®, IBM-PC®, and Apple II®. Do these names of early personal computers bring back memories? I think at one time or another, I owned every one of those, and others as well. Personal computers have changed over the years with improvements in processor speeds, memory, and storage. One of the most dramatic changes in personal computers, however, is in their size. You can now hold more computing power in one hand than would fit on an entire desk just a generation ago. Tablet computers pack a lot of power in a small frame. Not only can you do your online research on a tablet, but trips to the libraries and archives are easier when carrying a lighter load. Windows®-based tablets like the Dell Venue® and Microsoft Surface® will run the most popular genealogy software packages like Legacy® and RootsMagic®. With Android® and Apple® operating systems, which have a combined market share larger than Windows® tablets, there are fewer options for genealogists. RootsMagic® has an app (short for application) that is Apple®- and Android®-compatible, but doesn't work with the same functionality as it does on Windows®-based tablets. Legacy's® app for the Apple® OS is called Families® ($14.99). There are also GEDCOM viewers for both Android® and Apple® systems; examples are Branches® and GedStarPro®. Ancestry.com® and FamilySearch.org® have apps for Android® and Apple® that are geared to editing online trees maintained on their websites. There are scanner apps for iOS® and Android® that make it easy to scan documents and photos and save them as PDF files. Finally, there are Android® and Apple® apps for the popular FindAGrave® and BillionGraves® websites. I've really just scratched the surface of tablet applications that can be used to complement your research efforts. Tablets can be great tools for searching and discovering your family history, so this tip has a lot to do with genealogy! 10/01/15 TRB

The deeper you dig into your family history, you will realize that facts may be harder to find. Most everyone knows about the obvious locations for online researching like Ancestry®, FamilySearch®, and FindAGrave®; but when the sources stop yielding results, you'll have to do your research the old-fashioned way -- visiting the local courthouse, library, or state archive. These venues can open up a whole new world of data, resources that have never been scanned, indexed, and placed online. Local libraries in the towns and counties where your ancestors lived may have family files that some caring relative donated years ago. I once found a photograph of my third great grandfather in a family file found in a small-town library. These could be copies of family group sheets, extracts from family bibles, or even old newspaper clippings that someone just couldn't throw away. Local libraries often have copies of town or county histories that might mention your relative, and include comments about his or her contributions to the community. The resources can normally be copied, photographed, or scanned to provide documentation about your relative for you own records. Always ask a librarian if there are any restrictions on copying records; some documents may be too fragile to handle. Some smaller libraries may be cash-strapped and depend on the money they make from providing paper copies to patrons as a source of annual income; in that case the use of personal cameras or scanners might be prohibited. Librarians can be a great source of help; treat them with respect and always say "thank you" for any help they provide. 09/01/15 TRB

If you're not using Facebook®, you're missing out on a potentially valuable genealogy resource. I'll admit I was very hesitant to jump on the social media bandwagon; others tried to explain Facebook® to me to no avail; I just couldn't see why I would need it. Until I gave it an honest look. One of my interests is the use of technology in genealogy. I soon discovered a Facebook® group dealing with that topic (Technology in Genealogy), and was amazed at the breadth and depth of the discussions posted by group members. Need an answer to a question about the genealogy software you use? Just post the question on the group's page, and it won't be long until someone will post an answer or a link to a website that deals with the topic. Not sure about how to photograph old tombstones or the best digital camera to but for your research needs? Search the group's archive and you'll find many applicable posts submitted by other genealogists like yourself. The Kindle® for Genealogy group has many postings about free books available from Amazon.com that deal with numerous facets of genealogy. Do you use Evernote? Then check out the Evernote® Genealogists group on Facebook®. The Kentucky Genealogy Network group shares information about the families that helped build the cities and towns in which many of us grew up; there are even groups that specialize in certain counties and towns. I guarantee you'll find something useful on genealogy-related Facebook® groups. Don't put it off...get started now. 08/01/15 TRB

The other day I found an envelope full of old black-and-white photo negatives that had belonged to my paternal grandmother. The negatives were large format, 2.25 X 2.75-inches, probably taken by an old box camera. The negatives contained images of my father, most likely in his late teens or early twenties. I decided to scan the them with my Canon® all-in-one (printer, scanner, copier), and I was amazed by the quality of the scans. I placed several of the negatives on the scanner platen for each scan, and then using a free photo editor (Irfanview®), I converted the negative scans to positive images, producing the equivalent of a black-and-white picture. By cropping each picture from the multi-image scan and enlarging it, I could produce a 5 X 7-inch photo. I had never before seen these pictures of my father. Included in the group were images of some early 1930s cars, local scenes from his hometown, and even pictures of some pretty young ladies. First loves, I assume. I remember hearing stories about my father attending a military academy in his late teens; among the pictures was one of my father in his cadet uniiform! The story was true, not fiction, because I now have the picture of proof. You never know when you're going to stumble upon an elusive record, photograph, or other document that lends value to your research. So keep digging — the clues are out there! 07/15/15 TRB

The title of this tip is, "Why Wasn't the Return, Returned?" Several years ago I mentioned in one of our tips that my maternal grandfather had multiple (three, actually) marriages. I've tracked down the records of his second and third marriages, and one of these days, I hope to find the record of his first. Someday, maybe. His second marriage was recorded in Lawrence County, Ohio in November 1908. All the expected information is included in the marriage license application: names of the bride and groom, their birth dates and birth locations, where they currently lived, their occupations, and the names of both sets of parents. There's enough information on just this one document to start a family group sheet. Despite all that great information, there's one thing missing...the marriage certificate return. Nearly every post-1900 marriage certificate I've studied includes the return, i.e., the statement of the minister or civil authority who performed the marriage ceremony. This information is important because it documents the actual date of the ceremony. Why was this return missing? There are several possible reasons for this anomaly. First, the couple took out the license, but decided not to get married; unusual, but possible. In my grandfather's case, he and his wife appear in the 1910 census of a neighboring state, less than 20 miles from where the license was obtained; so the marriage apparently took place. A second reason that a return might be missing is that it was actually returned to the courthouse, but misplaced before it was recorded; definitely more probable, given the thousands of documents a county clerk would handle. Yet another scenario is that the minister never remitted the return; again this is possible, but in my opinion less likely given the preponderance of returns we actually encounter during our research. So I'm of the opinion that the return was simply lost, misfiled, or destroyed. If you encounter a missing marriage return in your research, don't dismiss the fact without thinking about the possible reasons this might have occurred. 06/01/15 TRB

Have you ever run into a stumbling block and can't find any additional information on an ancestor? Try checking collateral relatives, people with whom you share a common relative but are not a direct-line relative. Collateral lines like brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, often supply information about your direct line. Collateral research also helps you become better acquainted with your ancestors, the times when they lived, local politics, occupations, and general family patterns. There are several tools you can be use to search collateral relatives. One way to discover your collaterals is to use a drop-line pedigree chart. It's one that lists horizontally all the brothers and sisters of each generation. By "dropping down" from your direct line to the next generation and listing siblings, the chart will indicate a bigger family picture. Land records and probates can help to distinguish links. Check all the same surnames in a county. Public records such as wills of siblings and aunts and uncles who had no children or did not marry often list nieces and nephews. Property deeds often indicate relatives as neighbors. The older deeds give more information than the newer ones by indicating who previously owned the property -- possibly parents. Death records of a later date supply more information than earlier death records. Younger siblings' records might be more complete as to parents. Census records can help with location and perhaps death records of parents. Elderly parents may have lived with one of their children or a sibling. Census records can also help when families moved, as indicated by birthplaces of siblings; estimate of parents' marriage by looking at siblings' ages; and when a second marriage may have occurred. Check the names before and after your ancestor -- they may be in-laws. Obituaries of siblings may indicate more information about parents, brothers, and sisters. Some obituaries are long and detailed; females are often listed by married names; estimate when children died by not having their names included or mentioned as deceased; check several papers (morning and afternoon; local and county) for obits as some write longer obits than others. Check county histories for siblings under their married surnames; also family histories under married surnames. And finally, military pensions of brothers-in-law could include affidavits of family members, or places of residence prior to the war. 05/01/15 SG

I don't remember the exact date that I developed an interest in genealogy, but it was sometime in the mid-1990s when I lived in Indiana. I remember seeing an offer for a genealogy software application called Family Origins that was produced by Parsons Technology. I bought the program (on a CD-ROM, you couldn't download full programs like you can today because of terribly s-l-o-o-o-w Internet connections back then), loaded it on my computer, and started adding names, dates, and places about everyone in my family. A distant cousin provided me with some family information that he had obtained from another relative. The information was in the form of a family tree, handwritten on a piece of legal-sized paper. No dates, no towns, just names connected with lines to show relationships and generations. I probably still have that piece of paper somewhere, but I doubt I could find it. Segue to the real topic of this post...remembering where we put things. I always thought I was organized; but the older I get, the more things seem to disappear and/or be forgotten. Until I discovered Evernote. (Disclaimer: I am in no way being compensated for sharing my thoughts about Evernote.) The notetaking, organizing, sorting, almost-does-everything software appeared on the scene in 2008, and today has millions of users worldwide. Among the more ardent users of the application are genealogists, at least according to all the Facebook and blog posts I see, and the number of sessions at RootsTech I attended. There's a Facebook group, Evernote Genealogists, that's very active and definitely worth joining. Well-known genealogy speaker, technology guru, and blogger Thomas MacEntee monitors the group and helps answer questions and steer viewers in the right direction. If there are free Kindle ebooks about Evernote, you'll hear about them on the Evernote Genealogists group on Facebook (I have at least a dozen on my own Kindle). I've been using Evernote for a few months, and it gives me one place to store my genealogy notes, pictures, articles, web pages, etc. And the great thing is that I can actually find them, because I only have one place to look! If you use a tablet, anything you add to Evernote on your desktop or laptop computer is synced to the tablet, too. All your data is available, all the time, on all devices. Evernote is free; you might want to try it. 04/01/15 TRB

At a recent genealogy conference I overheard two fellow family historians discussing the practice of placing their family trees online. One was totally into the practice; the other had numerous fears that would fill two pages. The proponent stressed the benefits to be gained through online collaboration with others who shared the same ancestors. More vital facts, knowledge of more family members, and the possibility of meeting more cousins. The more conservative researcher had privacy issues, fearful that personal information about his ancestors online could lead to identity theft or some other form of data mining. The two people never reached agreement, interrupted by the beginning of another conference session on the day's schedule. Hearing both sides of the issue prompted me to think which approach I thought was better. I've not posted my family research information online, but I have shared parts of it with some of my family. This is probably one of those issues for which there is no universal solution. What each of us does with our family histories is a personal choice shaped by our own feelings and research goals. It seems a shame to work for years on our research, as many of us have, and not share it with someone; we don't want the information to die with us. But if we have security concerns, maybe it's better to not make it public and sleep better at night, with one less fear on our minds. Maybe you feel that you will lose control or ownership of your work; maybe you resent sharing your information with an online genealogy source that will ultimately profit from it. I'm not sure what I'll do in the months ahead. What about you...which choice will you make? 03/01/15 TRB

February is Black History Month, and a good time to reflect on the way things used to be in our country. Until the Emancipation Proclamation took effect on January 1, 1863, slavery was routine, especially in the South. Kentucky was a border state, geographically, during the Civil War, but slavery had a foothold in the state long before southern secession and the beginning of the conflict. I remember the first time I saw the 1850 Slave Schedule from Owsley County, Kentucky, and discovered that my great-great-grandfather was a slave owner. I had a hard time accepting that fact, and still do, even today. Things were different 165 years ago; slavery was commonplace and accepted as the norm by far too many people. Slave auctions were announced in the local newspaper, the Georgetown Herald, as were announcements for runaway slaves, most of whom fled north in search of freedom. Because of its proximity to Ohio and other free states, Kentucky played a large role in the success of the Underground Railroad. Some Georgetown residents most likely had ties to these freedom efforts. As you research your family history, don't be surprised to find connections to slave owners, and possibly to former slaves themselves. The slave era in our country is history, thankfully, but its consequences live on through our research and the relatives we discover. We can't change history, but we should try to understand why some of our ancestors supported slavery and others didn't. It's all part of discovering who we are. 02/04/15 TRB

In previous tips we've mentioned the value of death certificates in establishing genealogy facts (see our June 2013 tip in the Tips Archive). Two other sources that can be quite valuable are wills and court records. Wills are especially valuable because they usually include the names of heirs and the relationship of the heirs to the deceased. They may also include hints about where property was located, who lived nearby, and give an indication to a person's social class or prominence within the community. Frequently the wills of deceased residents would be recorded in the local newspaper. Official copies, of course, were filed in county courthouses, but due to fires, floods, and other disasters over the years, many of those documents are no longer available. Newspaper copies may be your only link to valuable family records, so it's a good idea to add them to your arsenal of research tools. Records of court cases can also be found in county records, but again some of them may be missing due to disasters previously mentioned. In researching Estill County, Kentucky, court records, I found numerous mentions of my second-, and third-great grandfathers. It seems that they were suing, or being sued, frequently. I've found cases involving land disputes and outstanding debts. One of the more interesting cases involved the ownership of a Thoroughbred stallion. And then there was the case involving my fourth-great grandfather being sued for support of a child he fathered, but I won't go into any of those juicy details! Not only do wills and court cases make interesting reading, but also they can help fill in the gaps in your research. 01/03/15 TRB

Looking for a good gift to give a friend or relative for Christmas? Why not put your genealogy skills to work and give her (or him) a family history album. Include the basics, of course, like family group sheets and pedigree charts. Contact her family and ask for photos of her parents, grandparents, or other relatives. Scan the pictures and return the originals to the owner; with luck, you might have enough photos to fill several pages. You probably know the town she grew up in; write a short local history of the region that will stir memories of the past. A local library might have a copy of a yearbook from the year she graduated from high school; a copy of her senior picture would make a great addition to the album. All the Federal Censuses through 1940 are available in archives or online; search for her family in the census and provide a timeline of where her family lived and worked. Her father may have served in the military; see if you can locate his draft registration records. Military-related websites like Fold3.com may hold all sorts of information about a soldier’s or sailor’s time in the military. Use your imagination and all the knowledge you have gained in your genealogy adventures; it won’t be long and you’ll have a perfect gift for a friend that will definitely mean more at holiday time than a gift certificate or fruit cake. Happy holidays to all and best wishes for a productive year ahead. 12/01/14 TRB

Do you have an ancestor or relative who seemingly appeared out of nowhere? Or one who disappeared and left no trace of his or her existence? I think many of us have such a person in our family trees. In my case, it’s my parental great-great grandfather, and despite my research, I can find no record of his death. He appears in the 1880 and earlier censuses, but not in the 1900 census. The obvious conclusion is that he died sometime within that 20-year period. I then searched the county tax lists. He’s listed in the tax rolls, through 1888; then his wife’s name appears. So he must have died about 1889, I thought. Further research led me to a written history of a local county church; there I discovered that he was a delegate to a state church convention in 1892. So much for my conclusion about an 1889 death. He does not appear in later censuses, nor in any other records I have researched. If you have an MIA relative like mine in your family, don’t give up the hunt. The truth is out there somewhere (or so I keep telling myself). Set things aside for a little while, and begin the search again with a fresh set of eyes and a clear mind. Maybe you’ll find the one clue that will solve your mystery and give you something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving Day. 11/01/14 TRB

What information can you find in a census? Of course there’s the obvious: names, relationships, approximate ages, birthplaces, etc. Recorded information varies with the census year. Any of the facts found in the ten-year censuses are important and can fill in gaps in your research. My maternal grandmother died in 1977, and I knew her for a number of years before her death. She lived in the same town where I was growing up, and we spent a lot of time together. I used to ride my bicycle to her house on warm summer days in West Virginia. She told great stories about the items I’d drag down from her attic. It was long after her death that I became interested in genealogy, and I realized that despite the time we spent together in my formative years, I didn’t know a lot about her early life. My grandparents were married in 1913 when she was 23. (At least I think she was 23. Her age varied on just about every census, and she was known to often misstate her age so she would appear to be younger than her friends.) It wasn’t until I reviewed the 1910 census that I discovered that she was a school teacher at one time. Maybe it was because of her influence that both of her daughters became teachers. When you study a census, look at every detail. Don’t be content with just their names and birthplaces; scan the far right side of the census forms and uncover more facts about your ancestors and how they made their living. 10/01/14 TRB

Been to a yard sale lately? Or maybe a flea market? “What’s this have to do with genealogy,” you might be thinking. I find it hard to pass up a good yard sale because I often see something that I don’t need, yet can’t resist buying. I’ve noticed over the past couple of years that people are discarding old books; maybe that's because of the popularity of electronic books. Some of those discarded books, especially those dealing with local history, can hold details about your family or other settlers of a town or region. I’ve read stories about people who search for old family bibles at flea markets so they can find and preserve the important names and dates that the original owners so carefully recorded. Some of these bible hunters take great effort to reunite their finds with descendents of the original owners. What an act of genealogy kindness that would be! Should you come across an old family bible at a flea market or sale, please consider buying it and trying to locate the family that would appreciate its return. If that doesn’t interest you, at least donate it to a local museum or historical society that would protect it and its cherished contents from ruin. 09/01/14 TRB

If you have a spare hour or two, visit your local library and view some of the microfilm rolls of past newspapers from your hometown or other locale of interest. Newspapers from the early 1900s are especially interesting because literally everything was newsworthy back then, or so it seems. Since taking over my genealogy society’s quarterly newsletter, I’ve spent many hours reading local newspapers from a century ago. Births, marriages, and deaths appear in every issue, and what genealogist wouldn’t like that kind of information! The names of family and friends visiting local residents of a town would often find their way into the newspapers. Injuries and illnesses were often reported, sometimes in gruesome detail. (A story I read recently about a man killed by a train made Psycho seem like a cartoon.) Should an important state or national dignitary come to town, columns of information would appear to record the event. The facts that our ancestors found worthy of print chronicled their lives; as family historians we shouldn’t ignore them. 08/01/14 TRB

Summer seems to be the best, if not the most convenient, time for family reunions. Parents, children, aunts and uncles, and all sorts of cousins get together to share memories, discuss their current activities, and remember those who are no longer there. And if they’re lucky, no fights will break out and no feelings will get hurt. The last reunion I attended was a nice event. It was held at a state park; there were cabins for all the attendees, and a sheltered pavilion where we had out meals and get-togethers. The state park offered all sorts of other events (hiking, boating, etc.) to occupy the time when we weren’t doing family things. One of the best events of the entire weekend was the photo exchange; everyone brought multiple copies of their favorite pictures to share with others. Photo scanners weren’t the rage then, but nowadays a portable scanner like the Flip-Pal® can shorten the time needed to copy hundreds of photos. You can then upload your scans to a social media site like Facebook® or a Cloud account like DropBox® and share them with the whole family at the speed of an email. Technology has revolutionized our lives in many ways; family reunions are just one example. 07/01/14 TRB

How did we ever do our genealogical research in the days before the Internet? I guess we did it the hard way, by actually going to the libraries, archives, churches, courthouses, and other repositories where records are stored. Research trips had to be planned in advance, building itineraries to be sure that we visited every nook and cranny, town and village, where our ancestors might have lived, worked, and settled. No doubt, many of us have done that, and more, as we've worked to build our family history files. But since the advent of the Internet, more doors have been opened to us, and that's a good thing. The sources available to us now didn't exist less than a generation ago. We can now search archives at home or anywhere in the world at any time, day or night. Resources like Ancestry.com®, FamilySearch®, and Fold3®, just to name a few, have opened the research doors in ways we could never imagine just a few years ago. It's as if research possibilities blossomed overnight. But unfortunately, these new research advantages can have a downside; much of the information available to us now is incorrect. Inaccuracies have a way of snowballing; they can show up on one website, then another, and before we realize it, people start accepting them as truth. In searching one family connection, I found no less than five family trees online that were basically identical. All had the exact same birth date for the person I was researching, yet there is no definitive source for that birth date. I tried to contact each of the family tree owners about the information in their trees; not one of them answered my query. As genealogists, we have to be aware that inaccuracies can exist, and not accept everything we find online as absolute. I know I'm a much better researcher, now that I'm paying more attention to the sources of my findings. 06/01/14 TRB

I had the opportunity recently to use and compare several different genealogy software products. I found them to be quite similar in their features and cost. Some have a few more bells and whistles than the others, but they all succeed in doing one thing very well...organizing your data. I had read many reviews about the programs written by well-known genealogists, but until I took the time to actually try each of them, I didn't realize their capabilities. In one of my previous monthly tips (August 2013), I mentioned some of the better-known programs, at least those that advertise in genealogy publications and have a presence at genealogy conferences. Most of those I reviewed have free and paid versions; only one did not. The free versions have many good features, but upgrading to the deluxe or paid versions gets you more tools and printing options. The programs I reviewed are as follow: Ancestral Quest®; Family Tree Builder®; Legacy Family Tree®; and Roots Magic®. This bears repeating...if you're not using software to organize your research findings, you're ignoring a valuable genealogy partner. 05/01/14 TRB

The other day I was searching an online genealogy site and found a marriage license application that I knew I had seen before, probably several years ago. I saved a copy of the document, but then I started trying to remember where I might have stashed the copy I had seen previously. Despite my best efforts to organize my files, the missing document was just that...missing! Part of my organization problem is due to the names of the files as they appear on the websites. I once downloaded a West Virginia census image from an online site; the file was saved in my computer's Downloads folder as "m-t0627-04444-00005.jpg," which might have meant something to the person who originally scanned the document, but was of no help to me in identifying the content of the image. What I should have done, and didn't, was immediately rename the file to something that identified its content, for instance, "1940 Randolph Co WV Census-Harding.jpg" That way I could have used my PC's search capability to find that file, or any file, that contained the word Harding. Similarly, I found my great aunt's husband's WW II Draft registration record when doing an online search; when I saved the record, the filename was "record-image.jpg." Right then and there, I should have renamed the file, "WWII Draft-Francis Hogan.jpg," which is more meaningful. It's not too late to organize your downloaded files. Simply go to the directory where they're located, open the file to determine what it is, and then rename it to something more meaningful. It's time well spent, and you'll be glad you did it. 04/03/14 TRB

Where do you keep your valuable family documents? In a drawer? In a box in the attic or basement? I'm afraid many of us are far too careless with our storage choices. It only takes one disaster, large or small, to ruin our keepsake documents. We can take steps to provide better storage options, and now is the time to do it...before something happens. On two different occasions, I had water pipes break in my house and flood the main floor. Thankfully my important documents, including several years' worth of genealogy research, were upstairs and out of harm's way. Had either of those water pipe problems happened upstairs, it could have been disastrous. One thing you can do is scan those important documents, keep copies for everyday use, and store the originals in a more secure environment like a bank safe deposit box (which, by the way, aren't near as expensive as you might think). And once you scan a document, you can share the file with family connections. Don't be satisfied with just one digital copy; keep multiple backups both at home and off-site to ensure that they'll be available for future generations. And don't think that just because you backed up a file that it will last forever. Get in the habit of periodically checking your backups to be sure that they're still readable with the current technology. 03/01/14 TRB

When the 1940 Census was released two years ago, many family historians were elated to actually see their own names in the records. From a research point of view, however, the 1900 Census is one of the more valuable documents available to us today. First of all, because the 1890 Census was destroyed, the 1900 Census provides the only link to 1880, except for some special schedules that may have survived. That's a 20-year period when many immigrants came to America in search of new and better lives. Industrialization was at its peak during this period, and major population shifts were underway as well. The 1900 Census is especially valuable because it records the month and year of birth for each family member, rather than just the age. Someone listed as age 45 on the 1880 Census leaves us with a 12-month window in determining the month of birth; the 1900 Census improved the accuracy. The turn-of-the-century Census also provided information on the number of children born, and the number of those children still living. These are important numbers as you reserarch your family history. On the National Archives website, you'll find an interesting story about what really happened to the 1890 Census; it's not as simple as you might think. It's a rather long article, but stick with it because it's an interesting read. A copy of the 1890 Census form, what we would have seen had that Census survived, is available on our website. 02/01/14 TRB

The Family Group Sheet (FGS) is an important genealogy form used by most family historians. The FGS contains vital statistics information about an entire family unit, i.e., the parents and children. The form usually contains blank space to record additional facts and information about a person or family, and to document the sources where the information was found. When you encounter information about a family, perhaps from a birth announcement, marriage write-up, or obituary found in a newspaper, you most likely have enough information to start filling in the FGS. Don’t expect to find everything you need for a complete FGS from one source; it’s fine to start with the information at hand, and then add information as your research uncovers more family facts. Completing the FGS in pencil is a good idea, too; sometimes you find information that contradicts what you thought was true. If you’re using genealogy software to track your family connections, the FGS will be one of the reports that the software will print for you. Taking blank forms with you on research trips is a good idea, because you might stumble upon a new family line; you never know where your research will lead. It's a good practice to complete an FGS for each family you encounter in your research. Blank FGS forms are available on our website and other online sources as well. 01/01/14 TRB

With the Christmas holidays just around the corner, you might be stumped about the right present to get that genealogist friend of yours. Well, the options are endless, or nearly so; it just depends on how much you want to spend. You might consider a book about an area of the country where your friend’s ancestors settled; the book might explain customs or cultures that would help in one’s research. Books about the Civil War or War of 1812 might shed light on the struggles our ancestors lived with years ago. Check out Cyndi’s List to find ideas about genealogy magazines, journals, and newsletters that might interest your friend and order a subscription for her. Worried about the clutter of magazines? Many periodicals are available in electronic format for e-readers like the Kindle®, iPad®, or Nook®. Does your friend visit research centers? Consider the gift of a portable scanner like the Flip-Pal® or Vu-Point®. These are great additions to any researcher’s tool kit. Does he visit cemeteries, searching for family links? He would definitely like a small digital camera to record tombstone information. If your friend already has a digital camera, consider buying an extra battery or memory card to enhance the time spent in the cemeteries. The list goes on, and the choices are many. And if you want to keep that person as a friend, just don’t buy her soap-on-a-rope! 12/04/13 TRB

Genealogy is one of the fastest growing hobbies in the world. Unfortunately many of us don’t get interested in the subject until later in life, perhaps as a retirement hobby or an activity that we can casually share with family and friends. We spend hours looking for clues to birth, marriage, and death information. I’ve searched for years for the death date for a great-great-grandfather, but he seems to have vanished into thin air leaving no trace of his later life. Had I only gotten interested in genealogy when I still had living relatives who knew the family secrets, I’d be much further ahead in my research. If you’re lucky enough to still have older relatives, talk to them NOW. Ask them the questions that have you puzzled. Don’t put off contacting them; each day you wait, you lose the chance to find out about your family, and to record the story of their lives and learn more about the people who made you what you are. 11/05/13 TRB

I received a postcard in the mail recently that listed the details of my 50th high school reunion that will take place in 2014. Of course my first reaction was, “I’m not that old,” but a quick glance in the mirror said otherwise. When I think about graduations and class reunions, I’m reminded that yearbooks record the life and times of a period in a student’s life, something that all family historians should find interesting. Yearbooks date back to the mid-1800s, and if you can find some copies from those early years, especially from an area where your ancestors grew up, you might find valuable information about them. As photography became more commonplace during the post-Civil War Reconstruction era, schools began including pictures of students, faculty, and campus life. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to find an early picture of a relative. Locating old yearbooks is not that difficult. Many public libraries have yearbook collections, and high school and college libraries may also have reference copies. Some online websites like Classmates.com® have yearbook collections that are indexed by name or year. Don’t overlook the value of yearbooks in your genealogy research. 10/02/13 TRB

In the real estate marketplace, we always hear about Location, Location, Location! But location is an important aspect of our genealogy research as well. Oftentimes we're so excited to find names and dates in various documents referring to our ancestors that we forget to note the places or locales where they lived and worked. Those locations are important. They help trace the migration patterns of our ancestors, where they lived during their lifetimes. Those migration patterns could be work-related or family-related. When I started to track my maternal grandfather's family over the years, they seemed to be in a different place on each census. First in Pennsylvania, then West Virginia, then in Kentucky, then back to West Virginia. My grandfather was a mine inspector most of his life, so he moved often to cover various mines in the coal producing states of the eastern United States. His migration pattern is easily explained. But not all patterns are that easy to explain, and can cause roadblocks in your research. 09/02/13 TRB

Last month, genealogists lost a longtime friend. In our July newsletter we mentioned that FamilySearch® pulled the plug on Personal Ancestral File® software, known to most of us as PAF. Over the decades, PAF served us well. It was the second genealogy software program I used; I started with Family Origins®, but it was later phased out. There are other options out there, namely Legacy Family Tree®, Family Tree Builder®, Ancestral Quest®, Gramps®,and RootsMagic®. Free versions of each of these are available for the asking; just visit the links above. The free versions don't have all the capabilities of their commercial counterparts, but they're certainly robust enough to maintain a reliable database of your family ancestors. And if you're not using software to organize your research findings, you're ignoring a valuable genealogy partner. 08/11/13 TRB

Most of us have at least one cousin, but the exact relationship or connection to that cousin may be in doubt. Your first cousins are children of your aunts and/or uncles; they have the same grandparents as you. Second cousins have the same great-grandparents. Third cousins have the same great-great-grandparents, and so on. But sometimes the word removed shows up in a relationship between two cousins, such as first cousin, once removed. In the case of family history research, removed means that there is a generational difference. Your father's first cousin is your first cousin, once removed. In my case, I have no first cousins; my father was an only child and my mother's only sister never had children. But both my father and mother had first cousins, so I am their first cousin, once removed. My children are their first cousins, twice removed. This may sound a bit confusing, but placing the names on a relationship chart can bring order to the confusion. Most genealogy software programs also contain a relationship calculator that quickly confirms your cousin connections. 07/10/13 TRB

Genealogists love death certificates! As strange as that might sound, if you give a death certificate to a family historian, he/she will usually have enough information to fill out a family group sheet in minutes. I can't think of one single record that contains as much information as a death certificate. Among the facts just waiting to be discovered are the complete name, residence, and the dates of birth and death. Looking for the names of the deceased's parents? That information is usually found as well, and in most cases, the maiden name of the deceased's mother is mentioned. The deceased's occupation may be included. The death certificate will also include the cause of death. Burial information is often included, and the location of the burial is often a clue to where other family members might be buried, perhaps in a family graveyard or local church cemetery. I've noticed in my research that the format of a death certificate can vary by the state which issued it, and also the timeframe when it was issued; for example, don't bother looking for a Social Security number on a certificate issued before 1936. Studying a death certificate can provide a goldmine of genealogical information. 06/02/13 TRB

Derby Week in Kentucky is probably my favorite time of the year. The hopes and dreams of Thoroughbred owners, breeders, trainers, and jockeys come true on the first Saturday in May at Louisville's historic Churchill Downs racetrack. (So you're thinking, "What's this got to do with genealogy?") Well, I can tell you for a fact that if human genealogists and family historians (that's us) paid as much attention to pedigrees as equine genealogists do, then our research would be much easier. Virtually all Thoroughbreds can be traced back to three Arabian stallions that were exported to England in the late 1600s and mated with native English mares known for their sprinting ability. Millions of Thoroughbreds have been bred over the years, and their bloodlines, racing accomplishments, and mating characteristics have been recorded and studied with meticulous care. In North America, the Jockey Club which is located in Lexington, Kentucky is the agency that tracks registration data for all Thoroughbreds. Wouldn't it be nice to have such a resource available to help us solve our genealogical brick walls! 05/02/2013 TRB

One thing I noticed while indexing the 1940 Census last year was that parents often moved in with their children. You can follow a family through the various censuses and find cases like this in many families. And it doesn't have to be parents who move in with children; sometimes it's aunts and uncles who had no immediate kin later in life and were taken in and provided housing with nieces and nephews. When my wife was growing up, she had two great-aunts who lived with her immediate family. I've noticed people listed as servants to one family in an early census, only to have the same relationship with children of that family two or even three decades later. Family dynamics were different generations ago, and life expectancy played a large role in family relationships. People live longer today, and live independently longer as well. If you notice situations like these in your family history research, be sure to document them so your descendants will have more insight to their ancestors. 04/05/2013 TRB

How many times have you thoroughly studied a document, only to discover later that you actually missed some important fact? That very thing happened to me recently. I had looked at the 1900 and 1910 Censuses for my great-grandparents many times over the years, but apparently I had overlooked columns 11 and 12 in the 1900 Census (columns 10 and 11 in the 1910 Census) that recorded how many children my great-grandmother had, and how many were still living. I had always thought that she had eight children, but upon closer review, I discovered that she had nine children, and eight were still living. Who was the missing (deceased) child? I found a possible lead in a someone's family tree posted on Ancestry.com®, but until I can find a verifiable source, the child is still a mystery to me! 03/01/2013 TRB

When I started my family history research, fellow genealogists were very helpful in providing tips and techniques to make my research easier, more focused, and more accurate. But I don't recall anyone telling me that I might discover something that either surprised me, embarrassed me, or sadden me. Things that happened to our ancestors and the way they lived their lives are history; there's nothing that we can do to hide or explain the facts, good or bad, that happened generations ago. A colleague of mine was looking for a relative who seemed to disappear from his household years before his recorded death. Where was he; where had he gone? Further searching found the person listed as a prisoner in a different state. A surprise? Probably. An embarrassment? Possibly. A hundred years ago, people with developmental disorders, certain medical problems, or psychological issues were often institutionalized because no one could take care of them. Don't be upset if you find a death certificate listing homicide as a cause; or suicide. Or find a birth record listing your ancestor as the father or mother, but no accompanying marriage record. Things happened back then like they do now, and there are some things you'll never be able to explain. 02/01/2013 TRB

Although I haven't seen any reliable survey results on the subject, Christmas cards may not be as prolific as they once were. But these annual yuletide greetings can still be a great source for family history information. People often include letters in their cards that give updates on family events such as births, graduations, marriages, and deaths. Why not scan those cards and letters and save them for future generations! Digital copies can be viewable long after the paper copies have deteriorated, or been lost or destroyed. Photo greeting cards can be scanned and the resulting files attached to records in your genealogical software's database. If you don't have a scanner, now's a good time to buy one as office supply stores and big-box retailers have New Year's sales; you can purchase a reliable scanner for under $100. And as we welcome a new year, why not make a resolution to devote more time to your family history research! Maybe you could make an effort to accurately document some of those life events that you know happened, but can't prove. Or maybe study a new family line. A new year awaits us, so let's get busy! 01/01/2013 TRB

One of the most often used sources for genealogists is the U.S. Census. The censuses, in general, have received a lot of attention this year because of the release of the 1940 enumeration this past April. Be careful, however, and don't assume that everything you see in the census is correct. The children listed in a census, for instance, may not belong to the parents. Perhaps a child was adopted, or taken in by another family for any number of reasons (death of a parent, abandonment, etc.). Sometimes the relationship is clear; the child could be listed as a niece or grandchild. But it's quite possible that the census enumerator assumed that a child belonged to the parents. And sometimes you find duplications of names. My father's name appears twice in the 1940 Census. He was listed with his parents in one county, but was listed as a lodger living in a different county. And if a head of the household is not listed in a subsequent census, don't assume that he/she is dead; maybe he/she is living with a child or other relative. 12/05/2012 TRB

Vital records (birth, marriage, divorce, and death data) are an important asset for anyone conducting family history research. In many cases, vital records are easy to find if you know where to look, and the best place to start is the county court house where your ancestors lived. Online databases such as FamilySearch® and Ancestry.com® contain vital statistics mined from state records. States vary as to when reliable vital records programs were initiated. Here in Kentucky, for example, reliable birth and death record collections began in 1911. They had existed, off and on, since 1852 thanks to Scott County native and medical pioneer William Loftus Sutton. If you have Massachusetts ancestors, those records date back to 1841; Rhode Island's records date to 1853. A handy guide for determining when vital records collections began in each state is available from Family Tree Magazine®; click here for this excellent research tool. 11/02/2012 TRB

In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Juliet said, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." If Juliet had been a family historian, she wouldn't have dismissed the value of a name so readily. In fact, if Juliet were searching the United States censuses, she would not only look for her Capulet ancestors, but she would also search for Kapulet, Capeulet and Capulette. When searching historical records, try to think of various ways a name could be spelled. Sometimes data recorders and transcribers wrote down names like they sounded, not necessarily how they were correctly spelled. Draft registration forms from both World Wars are notorious for having misspelled names; in most cases, registrants would say their names to the clerks who would often write down what they heard. And I'm sure all of us have seen misspellings in census records. When doing your research, go the extra step to check alternate spellings, especially if you're not finding someone you know should be in those records. 10/01/2012 TRB

If you had ancestors who served in the Armed Forces of the United States, chances are that you might come across his or her DD Form 214, Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty. It is issued when a military service member retires, separates, or is discharged from active duty. The form contains a wealth of information about a person's military career, such as the dates of service, his or her unit(s) of assignment, branch of service, rank, military awards and decorations, and type of discharge. The form also contains personal information such as date of birth, service number or Social Security Number, and home of record at time of entry to active service. The DD Form 214 is also used by the Veterans Administration to provide a military grave marker, and funeral homes might use it to determine eligibility for burial in a National Cemetery. The document is a reliable source of information, and should be safeguarded along with other important family papers. 09/03/2012 TRB

If you're serious about family history research, you need to take advantage of every opportunity to discover more facts about your ancestors. Our local library has a very good collection of old newspapers on microfilm, as do many libraries throughout the country. Taking an hour here or there to scan old newspaper images can lead to some unexpected surprises. You might find a news article about a relative or a possible family connection from a few lines in an obituary. Newspapers printed during the summer might have results from the county fairs that could mention your grandmother's baking or quilting accomplishments. Even looking at the ads can give you an idea of what the economy was like years ago, and give you a better appreciation for what the "good old days" were like. 08/05/2012 TRB

One thing I've noticed while indexing the 1940 Census is that there are mistakes, or should I say they seem like mistakes. One of the more interesting things I've seen is a woman listed as being the wife of someone, but her sex is documented as male. I've encountered names that are obviously male or female, but the sex is listed as as the opposite (e.g., Charlotte is listed as a male). And what about that child, age three, listed as married! People who went door-to-door recording the census were called enumerators; they were human, and it wasn't unusual for them to make mistakes. Considering the enormity of the task facing them, it's a wonder that there weren't more errors. 07/05/2012 TRB

I've written before about the value of a newspaper obituaries to genealogists (see the October 2011 tip). In many cases, they're a "one-stop" source for all sorts of information about your ancestors. A funeral card is another source of information that is often overlooked. These cards are available at funeral homes during visitations. They normally contain birth and death dates, and burial locations. It's not unusual to find relatives' names listed on the cards, too. I found a great explanation of funeral cards and a small searchable database at GenealogyToday.com. 06/02/2012 TRB

One of the major innovations of the 1940 census was the use of advanced statistical techniques, including probability sampling. This technique allowed the addition of a number of demographic questions of enumerated persons (two people per census page, or about 5% of the population) without unduly increasing the overall burden on respondents, enumerators, data processors. It also made it possible to publish preliminary returns eight months ahead of the complete tabulations. Sampling also allowed the Census Bureau to increase the number of detailed tables published and review the quality of the data processing with more efficiency. Several new questions reflected the concerns of the depression years. Along with the new census focusing on the condition of the nation's housing stock and the need for public housing programs, the 1940 census included questions about employment, unemployment, internal migration and income. Source: United States Census Bureau, 1940 Overview 05/01/2012

The Sixteenth Census of the United States (known informally as the 1940 Census) is now available, and for many us, it's the first time we can actually see ourselves in this valuable genealogical resource. Although a census-wide index is not yet available, thanks to many volunteers some states are now already indexed. Several websites offer a census location tool linked to the enumeration districts that are found in the 1930 Census. Pictures of all pages of the entire 1940 Census are now available online from the National Archives, but be prepared to sift through lots of images to find the ones you want. One way to ensure that the census-wide index is available sooner, rather than later, is to volunteer to help index the data found on the 1940 Census images. Becoming a volunteer is easy, and so is the actual indexing process; go to the Family Search Indexing website and sign-up to help with the project. You can index as many (or as few) as you want; every record indexed will help to complete this monumental task. 04/06/2012 TRB

I'm sure many of us have heard family stories about our ancestors. Uncle Henry once shook hands with Billy the Kid. Or my tenth-great grandparents were on the Mayflower. It's probably a good idea to heed those stories with a bit of skepticism, at least until you can prove them. I knew from family lore that my maternal grandfather was married twice; his first wife died around 1910 and he married my grandmother in 1913. But what I didn't know until I found his marriage record to that "first" wife was that he was a widower when he married her! So that means that I have a third marriage record to locate, and another family to trace. Who knows...maybe that first wife was related to Annie Oakley! 03/04/2012 TRB

Administrator vs Executor: An administrator was appointed if there was no will left by the deceased. An executor is named in the will of the deceased. Their duties were the same. In some instances an executor was named but due to the absence of any witnesses, an administrator was appointed instead and this was called “with will annexed.” The man had left a will and his wishes were usually carried out, but without any witnesses’ signatures, it was treated as an administatorship. Courtesy of Sandi Gorin, RootsWeb's KYRESEARCH list administrator. 02/09/2012

The U.S. Census is mandated by Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution and takes place every ten years. Although the census is considered an official government document, errors can, and do, exist. It's best to consider the census as a guideline, not as positive proof. In the 1920 Census for example, my aunt's first name and middle name are the same. Why? Who knows! Perhaps the census taker was distracted when entering the data. And one of my grandmothers was notorious for "adjusting" her age when asked for it. And many people were hesitant to reveal to a government agency any factual information about themselves or family members. Census information is just another clue in researching our ancestors; it's best to confirm data using multiple resources. 01/01/2012 TRB

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), American poet and author, once wrote, "You must not blame me if I do talk to the clouds." Little did he know that future generations would also be talking to clouds; not the celestial type, but virtual clouds, ones we can't actually see, as in cloud computing. This relatively new term refers to the practice of using a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage, and process data, rather than a local server or personal computer. What does this have to do with genealogy? As family researchers, we're used to backing up our important files. Cloud storage drives give us the ability to store important files off site where they can be accessed from any computer, anywhere, over the Internet. Two sources for cloud storage are Dropbox.com and Amazon.com. Both offer free, secure storage for family history files, or any important files for that matter. 12/04/11 TRB

"It must be true, because I found it on the Internet." Unfortunately, some family researchers believe that to be the case. The Internet, although a valuable source for information, should not be considered 100% reliable. Many people post information about their ancestors on various genealogy websites, but do not cite reliable sources for the information. Family legends can morph into irrefutable facts if not challenged by good detective work and solid documentation. It's a real temptation to turn to the Internet because of its convenience, but in doing so, don't forget how to dig into court records, vital statistics, state and national archives, and history books. Libraries have a wealth of information available for beginning and established genealogists. 11/02/11 TRB

One of the most valuable tools available to a family historian is an obituary. Available in newspapers for centuries, and more recently found online, the obituary chronicles a person's life. Within the space of a few column inches, you can find information like birth and death dates; names of parents, siblings, spouses and children; education accomplishments; hobbies and interests; and career information. Obituaries are normally written by close relatives, so names and dates are fairly accurate (although mistakes are sometimes noted). If the deceased was well-known or active in the community, a death might be reported as a featured article in a newspaper, as well as appearing as a standard obituary. Many libraries have local newspapers available on microfilm, so don't overlook that resource when searching for information on your ancestors. 10/01/11 TRB

There's no better way to get a discussion started among genealogists than to mention the "best way" to clean tombstones! It seems like everyone who has ever gone grave hunting has a favorite way to tackle the moss, dirt, bird droppings, and dried grass that finds its way to our ancestors' monuments. The best advice that I've found on the subject is, first and foremost, do no harm! Avoid harsh chemicals like oven cleaner, strong soaps, or anything containing bleach. If it won't come clean with plain water and a soft nylon brush, leave it alone. A good source for information about cleaning and preserving tombstones is Dick Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter. Use the Search box to look for articles about this interesting topic. 09/01/11 TRB

The price of digital storage media (hard drives, thumb drives, memory cards, etc.) keep dropping, almost weekly. I remember the first thumb drive I bought; it was a 16 MB drive marketed by Dell, and I bought it for a "special" price of $29.95 when I purchased a Dell laptop in 2005. Things sure have changed; I just found a 4 GB thumb drive on sale at Staples.com for $5.99. Compact flash (CF) and secure digital (SD) memory cards for digital cameras now sell for a fraction of their costs just a few years ago. What do you do with all those smaller capacity thumb drives and memory cards that have collected in your drawer? Use them to backup your digital photos and genealogy files! They're easy to use, easier to store, and they can give you a secure, secondary storage location other than your computer's hard drive. 08/01/11 TRB

Do you have an ancestor that served in the armed forces of the United States? He or she may be buried in a natonal cemetery. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs manages the various veterans burial services including the 131 national cemeteries located in 39 states and Puerto Rico. Click here for a list of the national cemeteries. Many states have also extablished veterans cemeteries; click here for a list. To search for burial locations of veterans and their family members, you can visit the National Gravesite Locator website. 07/02/11 TRB

If you're like most genealogists, you have a collection of family photographs. Despite the age of the photos, old or recent, they're actually fading, whether you can notice it or not. The fibers in the photographic paper are most likely breaking down, increasing their fragility. Now's the time to start scanning those photographs and saving digital copies that won't fade or break apart. There are several types of scanners that can be used to copy the photos and save the digital files to your computer. You can buy a decent flatbed scanner for under $100; it won't have a lot of bells and whistles, but it will definitely meet your needs. You'll want to install image editing software on your computer, too. Several programs are available for free; search for them with your favorite search engine. Preserve your photographic memories; you'll be glad you did! 06/02/11 TRB

When searching for vital statistics, don't overlook funeral home records. In towns across America, local funeral homes may hold clues to valuable information about your ancestors. Information such as dates of birth and death, names of relatives and where they lived, and burial locations may be found. Sometimes important facts are left out of obituaries due to space constraints in local newspapers, but these facts are often found among funeral home records. The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) maintains a website that can help you locate funeral homes in the United States; click here for their locator/search page. 05/05/11 TRB

This year, in fact this month, marks the 150th anniversary (the sesquicentennial) of the beginning of the Civil War. Most historians agree that the Civil War began on April 12, 1861, when Confederate troops fired upon the military installation at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. The war would go on for four more years; over 600,000 soldiers died in the deadliest war in America's history. You can search for your Civil War ancestors online at several websites, but one of the most comprehensive sites is the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System hosted by the National Park Service. Check it out! 04/01/11 TRB

An organization that can provide online assistance in identifying ancestors who might have served in the Revolutionary War era is the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). Using the online DAR Genealogical Research System, family historians can search a set of DAR genealogical databases to look for patriots. To visit the DAR website, click here. 03/06/11 TRB

Marriage information is important in genealogy research, and there are a few different types of records that you might find. A marriage bann is a public announcement of an intended marriage; banns provide advanced notice that a marriage will soon take place in case someone would have reason to protest the marriage. You might come across a marriage bond; this document was once obtained by the prospective bride and groom to attest that there was no legal or moral reason that their marriage shouldn't take place. Finally, a marriage license is a document issued by a civil court; the license is presented to the person performing the ceremony who then fills out the required information and returns it to the issuing agency for recording. 02/05/11 TRB

Backing up your important genealogy and photo files is a lot like flossing your teeth...you know you're supposed to do it, but it's easy to forget! A good New Year's resolution would be to set a schedule to back up those important files. Consider buying an external hard drive and making backup copies of any files you would hate to lose. You can also use USB flash drives for data storage, or create CD-ROMs with important files. You've spent a lot of time researching your family history; protect that investment with frequent backup copies. 01/02/11 TRB

Deeds of manumission, sometimes called “deeds of emancipation”, were filed in Court Order or Court Minute books with the County Clerk's Office so that freed African-Americans could obtain a Certificate of Freedom. This document would verify their free status. In a slave state where the majority of African-Americans were enslaved, this document was essential for a free black person to maintain their ability to travel or otherwise be "at large" in a white society that viewed an unsupervised black person with suspicion. Deeds of manumission or emancipation are filed generally by date of filing with the clerk and was not always the effective date of emancipation. Courtesy of Joe Hardesty, Kentucky History and Genealogy Librarian, Louisville Free Public Library. 12/02/10

What's a webinar? Simply stated, it's a seminar offered over the Internet. Millennia Corporation, makers of Legacy Family Tree® software, offer webinars on a regular basis; registration is free. You can also view archived webinars for free. These seminars provide valuable information about various aspects of genealogy. To learn more about upcoming webinars and archived programs visit the Legacy Family Tree® website. 11/02/10 TRB

Don't be afraid of technology! Too often we don't get interested in family history research until our later years, and we're often intimidated by the same technology that our grandchildren grew up with and casually accept in everyday life. Computers, digital cameras, document scanners, and GPS systems, to name a few, are elements of modern technology that genealogists need to embrace to get the most out of their research. If you're still generating hand-written paper records, if you're using a film camera to record your keepsake images, or if you have no idea what a scanner can do, you're behind the power curve! The future of genealogical research will walk hand-in-hand with developments in technology. Get with it...you'll be glad you did! 10/05/10 TRB

A valuable database for family researchers is the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). The SSDI is not actually produced by the Social Security Administration (SSA); it is a product of the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), a branch of the U.S. Department of Commerce. NTIS uses information from the SSA's Death Master File to create the SSDI. The SSDI can be found on various free and commercial websites. Information from the SSDI will include a deceased person's name, dates of birth and death, last known residence, and Social Security number (SSN). You can search the SSDI for free at RootsWeb®; click here. If you have a deceased person's SSN, you can submit a Freedom of Information Request to the SSA and obtain a copy of the original Social Security Card application (SS-5). There is a fee for this service; for more information, visit the SSA website. 09/01/10 TRB

Many of our ancestors suffered with medical problems for which cures had not been discovered. When you examine early death certificates, you may find terms that are confusing. Have you ever heard of chincough? It's an old term for whooping cough or pertussis. How about apoplexy, an older term for loss of blood to the brain, or a stroke in present day terms. Many children suffered from quinsy, which we know today as tonsillitis. If your great-grandfather suffered from gravels, he had a kidney stone. A good source for translating archaic medical terms can be found here. 08/01/10 TRB

The online auction site eBay® is known throughout the world as a valuable source for just about anything from A to Z. But did you know that you can also find genealogical artifacts that can prove quite useful in your family research? One evening I decided to enter my last name in the eBay search field. Among the 200-plus matches that appeared was a framed certificate documenting the 1890 marriage of my third cousin! Among the information found on the certificate were the full names of the bride and groom, and where they lived; the date and location of marriage; the minister's name; and the witnesses to the ceremony. Not bad for my $5.00 winning bid, plus postage! According to the seller, she had found the certificate in a box she bought at an estate sale. I'm not suggesting that everyone will be so lucky with eBay®, but it won't hurt to search for such things as old family bibles, vintage maps, and regional biographies. 07/02/10 TRB

Consider attending a local, state, national, or international genealogical conference to learn what other researchers are doing. There are keynote lectures and dozens of workshops and programs presented by some of the best genealogists in the business. There is usually a vendors' expo where you can see the latest in books, software, and other research aids. And best of all, you'll have the chance to meet people and develop friendships with those who share the same successes and brick walls that you've experienced. Who knows...you might even meet an unknown cousin! 06/05/10 TRB

In researching your ancestors, have you ever noticed duplicate first names in the same family? If so, the second appearance of a name might be a necronym. In earlier days when child mortality rates were much higher, parents often named a child after an earlier child who died in infancy. Such a name is called a necronym. And in many cultures, it was common for parents to name their first son after the paternal grandfather; similarly, they might name their first daughter after the maternal grandmother. These duplicate names can be challenging for genealogists as we try to document family groups. 05/07/10 TRB

When you begin to record information about your ancestors, pick a standard format for names, dates, and places and stick with that format throughout your documentation. Many researchers capitalize a person's last name, e.g., John Amos JONES; this avoids confusion between middle names and last names. Most genealogical date references follow the military style of day-month-year, e.g., 2 Aug 1815. Be sure to spell out or abbreviate the month; 2-8-1815 could mean February 8, 1815 to someone. And be sure to use the full four digits for the year. Names of states should be spelled out; state abbreviations are easily confused. Does MI stand for Mississippi, Michigan, or Minnesota? Don't take a chance...spell it out. 04/04/2010 TRB

Ellis Island in New York served as a welcome mat for immigrants from 1892 to 1954. The first immigrant to pass through the portal was a 14-year old Irish lass named Annie Moore. The last newcomer processed through Ellis Island was a Norwegian merchant seaman by the name of Arne Peterssen. But before Ellis Island, there was another immigration center called Castle Garden, also located in New York. Over 12 million immigrants came through Castle Garden from 1820 to 1892. Records from each of these immigration centers are available online. Castle Garden records are available here. Ellis Island records can be found on their website; click here. 03/04/10 TRB

The LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, has the world's largest collection of family history and genealogy resources. Many of the resources are available online through their website, and many of the resources can be ordered for delivery to a local LDS Family History Center. To find a Family History Center near you, click here. 02/07/10 TRB

Here's a great tip for the new year...get organized! Use standard genealogical forms. Several free forms are available on our website (click here). Don't try to document information on the nearest piece of paper or the back of envelopes or napkins. Slips of paper tend to get lost or there was not enough information on the paper to file it with the correct family. Use 3-ring notebooks to file information about your ancestors. Keep backup copies of important documents in a safe place. If you use genealogy software, make multiple backup copies of data files and keep backups up-to-date. Keeping a copy at a location other than your home is an added protection measure. 01/02/10 TRB, SG

Your ancestor(s) may have served in the military. Make a list of your male ancestors by name, age, and locations where they lived, and then determine the wars in which he may have served. The records of Colonial Wars may be housed in state archives. Many federal military service records are housed in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, DC. Female relatives may have served in the military as well; this is more common in World War II and later conflicts. 12/14/09 SG

Cemetery tombstones can be a good source of vital statistics information like birth and death dates. When searching cemeteries, pay attention to graves adjacent to your relatives' graves; they may belong to other family members. Assemble a cemetery toolkit to take with you on your fieldtrips. Some things to include are soft brushes, gloves, water, a notepad and pen, and a digital camera. Cemetery transcription forms are available here. 11/18/09 TRB

Genealogy is all about documentation. Many researchers heed the advice that "genealogy without proof is mythology." You should strive to document the sources of your information. There are two types of sources, primary and secondary. A primary source of information is an original record such as a birth, marriage, or death certificate, a written will, or a land deed. A secondary source is a written record that is compiled after an event occurred, often written from memory after the fact. Oral histories and handwritten transcriptions of events are considered secondary sources. 10/13/09 TRB

One of the best ways to improve your knowledge of family history research is to join a local genealogical society or club. Members will readily welcome you to their group and point you to the resources that are most beneficial. If you're having a problem finding information on a specific relative or ancestor, often referred to as a "brick wall" by genealogists, chances are a member of the group has experienced the same problem and can lend assistance. Many local genealogy groups offer programs at their meetings which can further enhance your research efforts. Also consider subscribing to mailing lists that are offered by RootsWeb®; people use the mailing lists to ask questions and receive answers from others interested in genealogy. 09/19/09 TRB

Hey, even the software is free! Have you delayed your family research because you don't want to buy expensive software? There are at least three free programs available to researchers. The first is Personal Ancestral File® (PAF®), a free genealogy and family history program provided by FamilySearch.org. PAF® allows you to quickly and easily collect, organize and share your family history and genealogy information. PAF® is available here. Another program that might interest genealogists is Family Tree Builder® available from MyHeritage.com. According to the software developer, Family Tree Builder® is available in 35 languages. To download Family Tree Builder®, click here and select Downloads. Finally, the standard edition of Legacy Family Tree® is available for free from LegacyFamilyTree.com. The software and training videos for beginners are available here. Note: The Scott County Genealogical Society does not specifically endorse any of these products. 08/13/09 TRB

Photographs of tombstones can provide important genealogical data, but a picture taken in haste can lose its value if good composition is ignored. Try to hold the camera parallel to the plane of tombstone; pointing the camera down at a tombstone can distort the image and make the inscription illegible. Try to avoid taking pictures early in the morning or late in the afternoon when strong shadows are present. Consider using a flash to highlight inscriptions and artwork. It's always best to take several shots of each tombstone from different positions to be sure that you haven't missed important details. 07/15/09 TRB

What is a delayed birth certificate? Delayed certificates were often issued to people who were born before 1911, the year that states began keeping vital statistics information. Applicants for delayed birth certificates had to provide proof of their birth to the county clerks. Acceptable documents included a doctor's or midwife's statement that he or she was present at the applicant's birth; school records; and information recorded in family bibles. Information on Kentucky's delayed birth records are available on the SCGS website; just click here. 06/07/09 TRB

What is a GEDCOM file? Simply stated, it's a file that provides standardized formatting of family tree data that can be read by any genealogy software program. The GEDCOM format was developed in 1985. GEDCOM stands for Genealogical Data Communication. 05/06/09 TRB


If there is an honorably discharged, deceased veteran in your family, you can order the Presidential Memorial Certificate (PMC) to honor his/her memory. This program was initiated in March 1962 by President John F. Kennedy and has been continued by all subsequent Presidents. Eligible recipients for this VA-sponsored program include the next of kin and loved ones of the veteran. For detailed instructions for ordering a PMC, including the application form, click here. You'll need to provide a copy of the deceased veteran's military discharge form and death certificate. 04/19/09 TRB

You've spent years researching your family history. Don't let that research go to waste. Make a plan for what will happen to your genealogy files after your death. Do you have a relative who is also interested in genealogy? If so, let that person know about your research and make a note in your will that your files should go to him/her. Or consider donating your files to a local library where others may use it. Your research is valuable...protect it for the future! 03/22/09 TRB

Don't forget to search church records for information about your family. Records might include information on baptisms, christenings, marriages, deaths, and burials. It's quite possible that you might find information that doesn't appear in vital records at the county and state level. 02/24/09 TRB

The National Genealogical Society® offers some excellent tips for beginners. Click here to visit the NGS website. The NGS also provides home study and online genealogy courses; more information is available here. 01/26/09 TRB

Census records can provide valuable information about our ancestors; they indicate where they lived and can help determine death dates of parents or siblings. Elderly parents may have lived with one of their children or a sibling. Census records can also help track families that have moved; they can provide estimates of parents' marriage date and siblings' ages. Information on second marriages can be found in census records. Don't forget to check the names before and after you ancestors on a census register; they may be in-laws. 12/31/08 SG

Military draft card information can be a valuable resource as we try to find our links to the past. One thing to be aware of, however, is that oftentimes, young men lied about their ages so they could join the military, so it's quite possible that you will find birth dates that don't match what you've found in other resources. 11/30/08 TRB

Surnames underwent many changes during the years. Spelling was not formalized until the late 1800s and many of our ancestors could not read or write. Many deeds and legal papers were signed with an "X." The spelling of the surname was often left to the creative spelling of a court clerk. Say a surname aloud and write down all the spelling variations you can think of. Keep a record of all the different spellings to help you in your research. 11/01/08 SG

Want more than just a name, date, and place? Try newspapers! The most common sources of genealogical information in newspapers are marriage notices and obituaries. Obits vary in length. Some give only the date and place of death while others detail several generations, maiden names of women, birth and marriage dates and places, and residences of family members. 10/20/08 SG

When returning to your research on a family line you have not worked on recently, be sure to review all the notes you have collected. It's amazing what one can overlook. I recentlly discovered that a death date I had been looking for was right there in my notes; I had just overlooked it! 10/02/08 SWB

In researching and transcribing old deeds and wills, you'll often encounter unfamiliar words. Perhaps you won't recognize the spelling or the meaning of the words today is not the same as when the deed or will was written. Solution: look for an older edition dictionary! An older edition will contain a lot of these unfamiliar words along with their definitions. 09/25/08 SWB

Looking for blank forms such as family group sheets or pedigree charts? Just enter "free genealogy forms" in your search engine and you'll find several sources for free forms. Also, genealogy software such as PAF® and Family Tree Maker® have options to print blank forms. Free forms are also available from the SCGS website; just click here. 09/20/2008 TRB