Research Tip of the Week

It is Tip Tuesday once again. This week my tip is about the use of surname tables in research. Surname tables are a useful tool to add to your genealogical research toolbox.

What is a surname table?

A surname table is a simple table that easily shows all the surnames of your grandparents through your 4th great grandparents in an easy to read and compact table. The surname table removes all the extra information of a tree and allows you to just focus on the surnames of your ancestors.

Why use a surname table?

A surname table is a great tool while doing DNA research. Autosomal DNA testing like that performed at sites like ancestry is really the most useful within 5 generations. The closer the better. With the generations of recombination, it gets too unreliable after that point. Using a surname table gives you a quick reference list of the surnames in your tree so that you can search out the familiar names in the trees of your matches. This allows you to find most recent shared ancestors more efficiently.

Surname tables are also useful in the fact that they create a visual to do list of brick walls. I knew I had a lot of brick walls in the family of my maternal grandmother but with the use of a surname table I can see the extent of my brick walls. Each of the question marks is a research project I need to work on further.

completed surname table
Surname table

Creating a surname table

This is my surname table. The concept is super simple. I used Excel to create mine, but you can use any sort of spreadsheet program or even a pencil and paper. The table needs 5 columns and 17 rows. The blank table should look something like this.

Blank surname table
Blank surname table

To fill in the table I start with the first row. I fill in the surname of my father’s father, father’s mother, mother’s father, and mother’s mother. These are my 4 grandparents. I will build out each column with their ancestors as I move down.


On the row with my grandparents you will notice two names (Baker/Fulkerson) separated by a slash and an asterisk next to one name, Baker. This denotes that he was the product of an adoption. During his lifetime he is on records with both his adopted surname (Fulkerson) and his biological father’s surname (Baker). I want to make sure I make note of that fact. I use a slash to denote he used both names during his life.

Okay great now I can move onto the next generation. Another way that I could approach the adoption of my Grandfather would be to add the asterisk and add Baker in an inserted row for the next generation. In my case, because my Grandfather used the name Baker for early years, I added it in on his surname. I will from this point only follow the Baker line back, not the Fulkerson name.

For the rest of this section of my table I only want to focus on the names not already on the table. I need to add the maiden surnames of each of my great grandmothers. I fill the table out moving across. Weatherspoon, Eckler, Brown, and Coats.

Great grandparents

The next generation will have 2 rows in each column. I move down my list. Once again, I only want to add names not already on the table. I want to look at the surnames of each of my great grandparents’ mothers. To keep things organized as I move down the table I start from the top and move down. My Baker great grandparent was the child of a woman with the maiden name Morgan. My Weatherspoon great grandparent was the child of a woman with the maiden name Bennett. I move across the table filling in these two rows for each column.

More generations added

At the next section of the table we are listing 3rd great grandparents. We need to add 4 surnames to our table at this level. At this generation, my tree starts to get less complete. I mark the ancestors that I cannot name with a question mark as a placeholder. This helps keep my table organized for easy understanding. I want to be able to look at my table and even at the 4th great grandparent level be able to see which surnames pair together.

After the last section, your table should look something like this. With such a compact format it is easy to see that I have some lines of my family that I have more work to do. Another thing that this table reveals, if I was not already aware of it, is that some of my lines have some intermarriage going on. I could find some skewed math in my DNA matches in the lines with double cousins.

I find surname tables especially useful when I am working DNA cases for other individuals as a Search Angel where I am not as familiar with the surnames as I am in my own lineage. Have you used surname tables while working with your DNA matches?

Research Tip of the Week

This week my tip is about a simple grade school concept that can be helpful in organizing your genealogical research. I think we all learned how to make a simple timeline at some point in early education. The concept is simple. A straight line with marks to show notable events in chronological order.

Family History Timelines

In family history research creating timelines can be a quick and straightforward way to visually understand what documents you need to find as part of your research. No fancy software or websites required; I often jot down a quick timeline on scratch paper with a pencil. For more elaborate timelines there are software programs and websites that allow the creation of detailed timelines.

A quick refresher

The concept is simple. A line, typically straight, from left to right. The dates at each end will be determined by the topic of your timeline. If you were researching the lifetime of one ancestor your start date would be the year the person was born, and the end date would be the year of death. Between your start and end dates, fill in events that may have generated records during your ancestor’s lifetime.

What to include?

Any records that your ancestor generated between your start and end dates are worth considering for inclusion on your timeline. Census records are a document that people in the United States generate every decade. If your ancestor lived in the United States between 1790 and today, census records might be an item to list on your timeline. If your ancestor lived during a period of military conflict, they may have generated records related to that event. Marriage is another even that leaves a paper trail that you may want to list on your timeline. The birth of children is another noteworthy event to include.

Why create a timeline?

Timelines can be useful in genealogy in several ways. They can help you build a research plan by showing the records you should be looking for in your research. They can help your research stay on track by letting you easily see the records you have found and the ones that you still need to find. Timelines are especially useful when trying to find determine if a research subject is two people with the same name or the correct person by letting you compare events and places in their timeline. As a tool in the genealogy toolbox, timelines can help push complicated research to the next level.

Genealogy timelines in action

Here is a timeline I have created to help me work on my brick wall ancestor Emma Davis. Emma was my great-great grandmother. I have more questions than answers about Emma. The family lore is that my great-great grandfather, James Spence, left Emma early on in their relationship and took their three young children to Michigan. Further tales tell the story of Emma remarrying and being under the impression that her children with James died in an epidemic and that when her grown children found her later she refused to accept them because she had told her new family the story about their death.

timeline of Emma Davis
Timeline of Emma Davis

A newspaper clipping from 1887 indicate she disappeared from Marblehead, Ohio and I have found no conclusive proof of her existence after that, or a death record. Did Emma drown herself or did she start a new life?

7 April 1887 Stark County Democrat

What is the truth? Who knows? Often records don’t tell the whole story. I want to find as many records as I can so that I might know as much of the story as possible. This timeline helps me organize my research. My research into Emma won’t be complete until I can locate all the documents that she generated during her lifetime.

As I find documents, I can add them and compare my facts with others to make sure things add up and I remain on the correct track. The 1880 census has been especially helpful in eliminating incorrect possibilities. While not impossible, it is improbable that she shows up in two places on the 1880 census.

My timeline for Emma Davis doubles as a research plan. I use excel for mine which allows me to add my documents right to the workbook. I can link the source documents which I have loaded onto another page of the workbook to my timeline. My timeline is visually basic, but it is easy to dress up the worksheet with photos, images, or other eye dressing for situations where you are sharing your information.

Do you use timelines in your genealogy research? What great discoveries have timelines helped you uncover in your searches?

Research Tip of the Week

Vital records are the backbone of genealogy.

Birth, marriage, and death records are the base documents we strive to discover for every research subject when possible.

Each type of document supplies certain details that are of family history importance but often there are details that we might not consider at first glance.

This week’s tip is about death certificates and using the international classification of diseases code to understand illegible or confusing causes of death on death records.

International classification of diseases

The international classifications of diseases or ICD are a code system that used to track diseases. The system currently in use dates to 1893 when French physician Jacques Bertillion introduced his Bertillion Classification of Causes of Death. The coding system’s purpose was in part to track causes of death. The United States adopted the coding system in 1898. The codes are updated and revised as needed and today the world is preparing for the 11th version to go into effect in 2022. Nations around the globe use ICD codes.

While cause of death is not necessarily a family history fact in a genealogical sense it can help add context to family history research in many cases.

In some cases, it might also supply clues to help move your research forward.

Using ICD codes

For my example I will use my great aunt who died at age 19.

1919 Death Certificate of Margaret Spence

While in this case the death certificate is not horribly difficult to read it would be easy for someone to miss information here.

The code for this case is 137. We see that number listed in large easy to read writing in the cause of death box.

The large 137 is the ICD code

I use the date of death to look up the correct version of the ICD in use at the time of Margaret’s death. In this case she died in 1919 so the 2nd edition of the ICD is the one I need.

The ICD code 137 refers to puerperal fever. Comparing that with the death certificate I can clearly see now that she died of septic puerperal fever, septicemia, and the contributary cause was peritonitis.

At this point it would be easy to close the chapter on Margaret Scott. She died at 19. She had one daughter prior to her death. Understanding the actual cause of Margaret’s death led me to look closer at her life… and her descendants. Puerperal fever is also known as childbirth fever. Margaret died because of childbirth. Did the baby survive?

Digging deeper

The 1920 census reveals that Margaret’s baby survived her and the infant was in the care of Margaret’s surviving husband, George Scott, and her mother, Anna. George remarried in July of 1920 and Margaret’s children grew up in the household of George and his second wife. Without do thorough research I could have easily missed the son, Millard Scott. By using the ICD code, I was able to understand more about Margaret’s death and insure I did not miss including her second child in her list of descendants.

1920 Census showing George Scott with his 2 children

Have you ever used ICD codes on death certificates to help your research?

Find a list of the historic ICD codes here!

Be sure to check out previous week’s tips for other great research tips.

Research Tip of the Week

This week the research tip of the week is about using military discharge documents in genealogy research.

Military service generates a lot of records. Many of the documents can be valuable in genealogy. One valuable information source is a DD214.

The DD214 has been in use by all branches of the U.S. Armed Services since 1950. It is a certificate of discharge from active duty and is a summary of the individuals service while in the military. The simple one-page document is a treasure trove of information.

Recently I received a copy of my Grandfather’s DD214 from his service in the Korean War. As I looked at my Grandfather’s DD214 I realized that not everyone understands how to read the document or what information is on the form.

DD214’s can be obtained as part of the military service record from the National Archives

This week’s tip is a crash course in reading a DD214 for family history research.

Over the course of the document’s history the DD214 has been updated and changed to collect different information but most basic details you can expect to find on a DD214 regardless of version. I decided to sit down and compare two DD214’s issued nearly 60 years apart to see how they are the same and how they have changed.

Details found on early and recent versions of the DD214 include:

Name of service member

Branch of service

Type of separation

Character of service

Date of enlistment

Date of discharge

Time spent deployed

Medals earned during service

Rank at time of enlistment

Rank at time of discharge

Nearest relative

Address at time of entry into service

Address at time of separation

Place of separation

Duty station at time of separation

Unit of service (for early versions this is most significant unit, for later versions it is the last unit)

Military schools attended and date

Earlier versions of the document may include details such as physical description. The 1953 DD214 for my Grandfather shows that he had brown hair, blue eyes, stood 73” tall, and weighed 185lbs. It also details his level of education, and his employment prior to the service. Modern versions of the DD214 do not include a physical description, the education spot is just a box to check if graduated high school, and there is no mention of field of employment prior to entry into service.

Here is a scan of my grandfather’s DD214. By looking at the bottom left corner I can see that this is in fact his DD214 and I can see that this version of the form went into use starting June 1953.

What does all this information translate into for the family history researcher? The answer is a lot, if you know how to read what you are looking at. It can also be a confusing document full of easily misunderstood terms if you don’t know what you are looking at.

Breaking down the facts:

Box 1 is the name of the service member in all version of the document. All information on the document relates to the service of the individual named in this box.

On the early version of the DD214 the character of separation and department are at the top of the document above the name field. In this case it was an honorable discharge from the department of the Army.

Box 2 is the member’s service number.

Box 3 is the rank at time of discharge and the date that rank was attained. In this case my Grandfather received his final promotion in rank on June 23, 1953.

Box 4 tells me that he served in the RA INF. This stands for Regular Army Infantry.

Box 6 details the date of separation. December 23, 1953.

Box 7 is type of separation. Discharge.

Box 8 provides further details about the type of separation. In this case it states AR615-365 & SEC VI SR615-360-5 (PETS) which means he was released from duty prior to the end of his term of service because he was no longer needed. The Korean War had reached a ceasefire. Here is a great resource for looking up early discharge codes.

Box 9 is the place of separation. Ft George Meade, Maryland.

Box 10 is the date of birth.

Box 11 is the place of birth.

Box 12 is a physical description.

Box 13- 16 detail information about selective service registration.

Box 17 and 18 describe details about the entry into the service. In this case it was enlistment for a term of 3 years, and he entered the service as an E-1 private.

Box 19 and 20 supply the date and place of enlistment and his home address at the time of entry.

Box 21-24 provide details about how his service was spent. It says that the term of service was 2 years 11 months and 24 days.

Box 26 describes the amount of time spent deployed. 11 months and 17 days in foreign service or sea duty.

Box 27 has a list of medals, awards, badges, campaign ribbons, etc. the individual has earned during their time in service. In this case the awards listed are Combat Infantry Badge, United Nations Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, and the Korean Service Medal with 2 bronze stars.

Here is a great article about the difference between the Bronze Star Medal and Bronze Campaign Stars.

Box 28 is the most significant duty assignment. He served in the SVC company of the 179 Infantry Korea.

Box 29 details injuries received because of combat. Thankfully, he received none.

Box 30 holds information about schools attended during service. The QM stands for Quartermaster. He attended cooking school from June to July 1951 at Ft Meade, MD.

Box 31 – 40 details information on pay, insurance, administrative data.

Box 41- 43 has information about civilian employment prior to service. My Grandfather was a farm hand for his father in Landisburg, WV from 1946 – 1950.

Box 44 shows he was a citizen of the United States.

Box 45 – 46 describes his education and marital status. He was single and had a 7th grade education.

Create a timeline

From a genealogical standpoint the details on a DD214 can be pure gold. This document provides a snapshot of life with details from both before and during his time in the service.

1946-1950 At home with his parents on the family farm

1950 Enlisted in Army

1951 Quartermaster school at Ft Meade, Maryland

1953 Discharge

The information in blocks 27 and 28 provide information on the 11 months of overseas service. He served with the 179th Infantry in Korea. The 2 bronze stars on his Korean Service Medal show he served for more than one tour. The fact that he had a combat infantry badge shows at some point he engaged with hostile forces. I could then use this information to learn more about the service of the 179th in Korea.

For a simple one-page form document the DD214 can be a treasure trove of genealogical information. All service members are issued a DD214 when they exit military service dating back to the year 1950. Knowing what a DD214 is and how to read the document can provide great details into the individuals years of service.

Research Tip of the Week

Today is Tuesday, so it is time for a new research tip of the week.

Right now my Grandmother is on her last days and to be honest I just didn’t take the time to prepare my tip for the week amid everything else going on. I considered skipping my tip this week. With more thought, I decided that this situation has plenty of opportunity for my tip of the week.

This week, my tip is about taking the time to work on that project you have been putting off.

Start today. Whatever your project no matter if it is doing an interview, getting a DNA sample, etc., take the time to start it. If it’s sitting forgotten somewhere, work on it.

For every question I asked my Grandmother, there are a million more I wish I had thought to ask and record her responses to. I never did a formal interview with her because of the distance between us in more recent years.

I attempted to get her DNA, but I waited so long to follow through with buying the kit and sending it to her I don’t know if she ever spat in the tube. Even if someone got the sample, there is no guarantee with her being so close to the end of life that the sample will even take.

The lesson from all this is that whatever your project today is the day to start.

For my parting note on this week, here is a 5 generation photo of my family. This is one project I am thankful I took the time to make happen.

5 generation photo
July 2016 Front Row Sally Spence, Desirae Brown holding Joshua Jay Serhill II, Back Row Tonya Shuck and Carrie Fulkerson

Research Tip of the Week

Naming traditions

Names are an integral part of genealogy. Surnames, maiden names, given names, even middle names are important in genealogical research. They are one of the biggest things that help us find our ancestors in records through the ages.

In some cultures, beyond just being a personal identifier, names can provide genealogical clues. This week my tip is about using cultural naming traditions in genealogical research when possible.

One example of a naming tradition is in families where the first son is named after his father. It is common knowledge that if an individual has a Jr, II, III, etc. behind their name that they are named after their father. Even non genealogical inclined individuals are able to quickly map out that person’s pedigree by looking at that information.

What are some less well-known naming traditions?


Not all families with Scottish roots will follow these traditions but they are common. In cases where the tradition is followed it can provide clues to several generations on both sides of a family.

  • 1st son – named after father’s father
  • 2nd son – named after mother father
  • 3rd son – named after father
  • 4th son – named after father’s brother
  • 1st daughter – named after mother’s mother
  • 2nd daughter – named after father’s mother
  • 3rd daughter – named after mother
  • 4th daughter- named after mother’s sister

Ashkenazi Jewish

Ashkenazi Jewish families sometimes follow a naming tradition of naming babies after recently deceased relatives. In cases where this tradition is followed it can sometimes provide clues to the date of death of relatives.


Spanish naming traditions make it easy to follow the maiden names of female ancestors. Women kept married names when they married. Children born to the marriage took the surname of both parents. The father’s surname is first and the mother’s surname is second. This tradition is also followed in most Latin American cultures.

These are just a few examples of instances where naming traditions can provide genealogical clues.

What are some naming traditions that you have discovered in your research?

Research Tip of the Week

Each week I provide a helpful research tip. This week my tip is about getting the most out of google searches.

Google can be a genealogist dream if you know how to really unleash the power of the advanced search options.

Performing a routine google searches should be a part of your basic strategy on any research subject.

Pick any ancestor and plug the name into the google search bar.

For my example I began with “James Spence” the name of my great-grandfather who in his early life has hazy origins.

The results are overwhelming, and I am swamped with unrelated websites in the return. With most names it will be necessary to filter out some of the background noise.

A quick trick to narrow the results down to genealogy related results is to add the keyword genealogy. That takes millions of hits down to under 500,000. Still unwieldy and with this approach I risk missing important results that don’t include the “genealogy” keyword.

At this point there are 3 ways to approach this search.

  • Advanced search options.

Once you have performed a google search additional options will become available to use advanced options. These can be accessed through the “settings” tab just under the google search bar.

Select “Advanced search” on the settings pull down tab. This takes you to a new page with extra search options.

advance search screen
  • Manually use search options built into google.

All the options that are available on the advanced search page work in the search bar. At the end of each search bar it has tips on how to manually use the search trick.

Here is a great blog post from Family History Daily with 6 great search tricks that are useful for genealogist.

Randy Majors has created a great tool that uses all the advanced search tricks of google in a very user-friendly search page. His site is a good way to play with some of the search options to get more comfortable with them.

Using these different search tricks can help you discover items that you might otherwise miss using other search techniques.

What are your favorite search tricks for google?

Research Tip of the Week

Each week I provide a research tip to help build better genealogical researchers. This week with the holiday season is full swing, my research tip is about preserving treasured family recipes.

It is tip Tuesday!

Family history is richer when it includes more than just vital statistics and records. It is the extra details that bring family history to life.

Family Recipes

Many families have holiday traditions and many of those traditions center around food. For some families no holiday is complete without decorating cookies. Other families may spend days leading up to the holiday gathering with a full day of pie making.

Great Grandma’s recipe box

One of the greatest genealogical treasures I own is a recipe box that belonged to my Great Grandmother with handwritten recipes on the index cards. It includes a peanut butter cookie recipe that I have made for my own grandchildren and hopefully someday my daughter will make cookies from that recipe box for her own grandchildren.

Too often we forget to document our family recipes and traditions which is sad. Few things can transport us to a memory of times long gone and loved ones who have passed like the smell or taste of a food or treat we associate with a warm and fuzzy distant memory. If we don’t take time and make efforts to master Grandma’s biscuit recipe it can be gone in the passing of a single generation.

As you gather this holiday with your loved ones take the time to look around the table and see if there is any dish that your holiday would be incomplete without and take the time to record the recipe and its origins. Your descendants might thank you.

Happy Holidays from Dusty Roots & Forgotten Treasures!

Research Tip of the Week

Tip Tuesday

Each week I provide a tip that can be helpful in genealogy research. This week my tip is about the use of social media in genealogical research. I use several forms of social media. My primary form of social media is Facebook, but recently I have ventured into the land of Twitter and Pinterest. Each platform seems to have its own drawbacks and benefits. This week’s tip will focus on using Facebook in genealogy research.

Facebook in genealogy

Social media can be valuable in genealogy research in unexpected ways. Here are my tops uses for Facebook when working on genealogical related projects.

Connecting to living people

Facebook is a great source for researching living people. While genealogy focuses on researching ancestors, you may need to look up a living person as part of your genealogical research. DNA matches are one instance where Facebook can be helpful. People test out of curiosity about ethnicity and never return to the site. If you have a DNA match that you want to connect with, it might not be a bad idea to search Facebook. People respond to Facebook messages more readily than they do Ancestry messages in my personal experience.

Genealogy groups and pages

Facebook has become a hub of genealogical activity. It’s free, and it gives genies a chance to collaborate across the globe in real time. Some of the brightest minds in the genealogical world have carved out a presence on social media.

One of my favorite groups on Facebook is Genetic Genealogy Tips & Techniques. The group has over 60k members and Blaine Bettinger is one administrator of the group. It is my go to source when I have questions about genetic genealogy. The group is hugely active and it usually up to the minute on big news in the genetic genealogy field.

The second group that I really enjoy on Facebook is the Genealogy Squad. It is a group with Cyndi Ingle of Cyndi’s list, the Genealogy Guys, and Blaine Bettinger as administrators. The Genealogy Squad is the sister group to Genetic Genealogy Tips & Techniques which focuses on the traditional records based aspect of genealogy research.

Family groups and pages

Facebook has become a popular place for families to create groups that serve as a connecting spot. My personal journey of genealogical sharing began with a Facebook family group. Support from my family members helped build the confidence I needed to venture out into a more public platform. That first group, The Shuck Funny Farm is now a virtual family reunion that never ends. It spans generations of people with a shared family line in rural West Virginia.

Members of the group share memories and personal stories of family members long gone. There are photographs shared that are not available anywhere else. The group is just under 100 members, and it has added a rich layer to the genealogical research for many relatives. The personal details add an amazing context to the genealogy. 

Facebook is just one social media platform that can be useful in genealogy. With the use of Facebook, you can put yourself in contact with the best minds in genealogy and stay up to date on latest news and events. It also allows you to connect with both close and distant relatives and opens up the possibility of creating ongoing virtual family reunions.

Do you use Facebook in your genealogical research? What groups or pages do you find useful? Have you checked out the Facebook page for this blog?

Research Tip of the Week

Tip Tuesday

Digitize your photos and documents

Each week I provide a helpful tip that helps create better genealogy researchers. This week my tip is about digitizing photographs and old documents.

**This blog post contains affiliate links and if you purchase items on this post through the links I may receive compensation.**

In the past, it was a complicated chore trying to make copies of photos. In the era of film, most people found it easier to order multiple copies of photos at the time of development than to get duplicates after they developed the film. It could be time consuming and cost prohibitive to get copies of old photos. As a result, people could be possessive of original family photographs.

woman looking at photo
Photo by Luizmedeirosph on

Today, that is not a problem. Technology for the win! Getting digitized copies of photographs and other documents is a breeze with modern technology.

There are several reasons you should start digitizing your photos today.

The number one reason you should digitize your photos and documents is because each time we touch an original, it sustains damage. Wear and tear will add up even with the most careful care. Digitizing your images and documents in their condition today will preserve them as they are now.

Another reason to digitize your photographs and documents is to safeguard your treasures if there is ever a disaster. House fires, tornadoes, floods, and other unfortunate events happen. In a moment’s notice, you can lose everything you own. There is no replacement for an original, but if you lose the original, a digitized copy is great to have.

Digitized photographs are also useful if you need to edit or repair the original photographs. There are several great software options out there for repairing digitized images of old damaged photos. You can copy the digitized original image and run the image through various changes, risking no damage to your original photo. One caveat here is that if you make edits to an original, it is good practice to show it is an enhanced version.

Flip-Pal mobile scanner

The final reason on my list of why you need to digitize your old photographs and documents is to share! A digitized image is easy to share. With the use of digitized photos and online family trees, the landscape of genealogy has changed. It’s a visual experience covering generations and connecting family members who otherwise might have never met. There is no longer a need to hoard family photos for a personal treasure with the ease of sharing digitized photos.

Learn More About the SRRS Solution

Digitize your photos today to better safeguard your research and treasures. It will not only protect your originals and help you fix damaged images, but it opens the door to sharing the images with other relatives. Great research only matters if you take the steps to preserve it.

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